Taco Bell’s latest advertisement campaign pokes fun at market leader and competitor McDonald’s. The ad features singer Doja Cat escaping from a clown school whose ice cream machines are broken. Sound familiar? Using comparative advertising, influencer and social media marketing, and rewards program incentives, Taco Bell’s recent ad campaign not so subtly asserts their superiority over the fast-food leader plagued by broken ice cream machines.
Watch The Grande Escape:
“Based on the usage of clowns and calling out broken ice cream machines, it really does seem like Taco Bell is taking a big swipe at McDonald’s, and the attention-grabbing ad has served its purpose.” 1
So, what is comparative advertising? This tactic is most often used by companies who are not the market leader because the attacked competitor frequently reacts defensively to their detriment. In the smartphone sector, for example, Samsung compares its products against Apple’s to show customers that Galaxy phones are better than iPhones, a strategy that has been working well for Samsung. Globally, there are varying regulations for comparative advertising strategies. For example, “In the United States, companies may not engage in comparative advertising without being able to … prove their assertions of better quality, greater popularity, better value, and the like with facts, and may not engage in false statements or imagery that disparage a competitor.” 2
In the quick service restaurant (QSR) industry, McDonald’s is no stranger to taking the brunt of comparative advertisements, especially with their ongoing fiasco of broken ice cream and milkshake machines. As a market leader, McDonald’s should and does avoid initiating comparative advertising because this would portray themselves as unnecessarily defensive to customers. For their competitors, however, this advertising strategy can prove useful.
Taco Bell’s recent ad is not the first time Taco Bell or other QSR competitors have gone after the fast-food giant. Within the last year, Wendy’s has called out McDonald’s for inferior French fries in their own commercials, and Jack in the Box has mocked their broken ice cream machines on TikTok. 3
Wendy’s versus McDonald’s fries:
In 2014, Taco Bell “gathered up people it says are the real Ronald McDonalds of America in an ad campaign for the fast-food chain’s new breakfast offerings.” 4 While the comparative strategy may appear aggressive, many marketers believe that when executed correctly, it is “done with a sense of humour aimed at entertaining audiences and generating brand recall.” 5 In this case, it worked to Taco Bell’s advantage; they had just released their breakfast menu in direct competition with McDonald’s, and this advertising campaign gave them much needed awareness of their new offerings.
With a target audience “between 18 to 34 years old who love a taco or two or three when it’s late at night,” 6 Taco Bell has discovered the secret to using social media to their advantage. This younger demographic frequently uses social media platforms to engage with brands. For many companies, having strong social media marketing strategies helps them go a long way with this particular customer segment. Taco Bell uses their social media accounts often in a relatable way: “Their posts aren’t revolutionary, just down to earth and comical.” 7 The authenticity and humorous nature of their posts and campaigns allows them to connect well with their customers.
Fast food restaurants like to have fun on social media and interact with other brands — and sometimes, that of course means making fun of them. 8
Taco Bell’s The Grande Escape features Doja Cat, a well-known artist who has been a longtime fan of Taco Bell. According to their Head of Brand Creative, “Live Más means celebrating that little bit of different that lives in all of us, which is exactly what Doja Cat represents … we’ve thrown out the category playbook and instead gave Doja Cat the reins to be the voice of our fans, which will extend far beyond game time.” 9 Doja Cat, who has said, “It’s no secret I’m a major Taco Bell fan,” 10 acts as an influencer for Taco Bell because of her status as a celebrity and history of both praise and criticism for the company. This collaboration can generate positive word of mouth for Taco Bell, especially with Doja Cat’s “authentic and energetic persona and captivating social media presence.” 11
Doja Cat’s TikTok Taco Bell promotion expresses authenticity and relatability that entices fans:
Prior to the Super Bowl, Doja Cat took to social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok to promote and tease the new campaign. Taco Bell hinted that a special reward – supposedly arriving soon – would be offered to customers who signed up for their rewards program by Sunday at midnight. 12 Taco Bell marketers strategically used the combination of influencer and social media marketing as well as comparative advertising to incentivize customers to sign-up for their rewards program.
Questions marketing managers might consider:
- What role does social media play in comparative advertising?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of publicly criticizing a competitor, whether through social media platforms or advertisement campaigns?
- This year’s Super Bowl commercials featured many celebrities. Why do you think they did this? Was it successful?
1 Lo, S. (13 February 2022). Did Taco Bell’s Super Bowl Commercial Take A Swipe At McDonald’s? Static Media. https://www.mashed.com/766576/did-taco-bells-super-bowl-commercial-take-a-swipe-at-mcdonalds/
2 Kenton, W. (01 April 2020). Comparative Advertising. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/comparative-advertising.asp
3 Nasta, J. (16 July 2021). The Hilarious Way Jack In The Box Just Called Out McDonald’s Broken Ice Cream Machines On TikTok. Static Media. https://www.mashed.com/463292/the-hilarious-way-jack-in-the-box-just-called-out-mcdonalds-broken-ice-cream-machines-on-tiktok/
4 Rayman, N. (27 March 2014). Ronald McDonald Goes Rogue For Taco Bell. TIME. https://time.com/39954/taco-bell-breakfast-ronald-mcdonald/
5 Saldanha, E. (19 January 2021). Ad wars: Why one upmanship in advertising makes for great headlines. campaign. https://www.campaignasia.com/article/ad-wars-why-one-upmanship-in-advertising-makes-for-great-headlines/466099
6 Mertes, A. (6 January 2022). Taco Bell? Marketing Genius and Taco Extraordinaire. Quality Logo Products Blog. https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog/marketing-taco-bell/
7 Mertes, A. (6 January 2022). Taco Bell? Marketing Genius and Taco Extraordinaire. Quality Logo Products Blog. https://www.qualitylogoproducts.com/blog/marketing-taco-bell/
8 Lo, S. (13 February 2022). Did Taco Bell’s Super Bowl Commercial Take A Swipe At McDonald’s? Static Media. https://www.mashed.com/766576/did-taco-bells-super-bowl-commercial-take-a-swipe-at-mcdonalds/
9 Taco Bell. (10 February 2022). Taco Bell Joins Forces With Doja Cat To Redefine Live Más, Debut New Music. Taco Bell. https://www.tacobell.com/news/taco-bell-joins-forces-with-doja-cat
10 Taco Bell. (10 February 2022). Taco Bell Joins Forces With Doja Cat To Redefine Live Más, Debut New Music. Taco Bell. https://www.tacobell.com/news/taco-bell-joins-forces-with-doja-cat
11 Taco Bell. (10 February 2022). Taco Bell Joins Forces With Doja Cat To Redefine Live Más, Debut New Music. Taco Bell. https://www.tacobell.com/news/taco-bell-joins-forces-with-doja-cat
12 Taco Bell. (10 February 2022). Taco Bell Joins Forces With Doja Cat To Redefine Live Más, Debut New Music. Taco Bell. https://www.tacobell.com/news/taco-bell-joins-forces-with-doja-cat