What Taco Licking Crisis?

Taco Bell was shellacked on social media and PR channels earlier this year when an Instagram photo appeared showing an employee licking a stack of tacos. Yet, there seems to be no brand crisis at all, rather a blip on the incredibly powerful ascent of the fast-food restaurant.

According to AdAge, “Taco Bell in 2012 posted an 8% increase in U.S. same-store sales — more than twice the 3.3% gain of industry leader McDonald’s.” And there seems to be no slowdown in sales.

Taco Bell has done more than just launch the uber popular Doritos taco line. They have dominated the male millennial demographic, launched a healthier Cantina line, engaged in effective marketing to the Hispanic sector. The fast food chain has deployed diverse creative talents to appeal to these audiences, working with American and German creative teams.

All of these positives prompted AdAge to dub Taco Bell its marketing brand of the year.

In the end, Taco Bell’s swift action in the Instagram crisis resolved the matter quickly. They found out the culprits worked at a franchisee, confirmed that the tacos were not served to customers, worked with the franchise owner to terminate the employees, and issued a public statement.

The usual blogger drama ensued, but customers — the brand’s true word-of-mouth advocates — were satisfied. Or felt the positives of the resurgent Taco Bell far outweighed an inaccurate Instagram photo posted by a maverick employee.

The taco licking social media crisis shows once again that online drama may not actually impact brands as much as negative voices would like us to believe. Online digerati don’t make or break a brand; rather, it’s a complex blend of product marketing, satisfied customers and their peer networks who build word of mouth, and traditional PR and advertising.

Money talks. Blogger hyperbole: well, that’s another outcome.

This post ran originally on the Vocus blog. I am on vacation until September 30 and will not be commenting. The floor is yours!

  • RandyBowden

    Great insight you share Geoff on a very opinionated topic. Taco Bell owned the problem and handled it well. I sometimes think, we in the industry are the ones that feed the “press” on the negative issues and quietly go about everyday work when no slight misstep is occurring. Once that incident happens, the “marketing saints” jump at the opportunity to tear a brand down. As they say “Shit Happens” and in the iPhone-in-hand world of today everybody knows it when it does. So just chill and make sure how it happened and how it is handled before chunking the spear!

  • Yep Geoff, not a blip. I wrote about so many of these instances on Social Justice that it almost became monotonous: 1) Brand is foiled by a silly employee 2) Social Media explodes 3) Brand goes on without a hitch and often grows revenue.

    I actually decided to pivot the series last week and focus on social good being done by companies. Great post.

  • Bandwagon bloggers…although I do like the Social Justice series from ArCompany. I just knew that it would fade from memory pretty quickly – especially if it is done by a single employee.

    We had our instances of huge backlash with the Dominos and Nestle instances, now we are desensitized to these “social scandals” unless it really targets a group from a discrimination point of view.