Breakfast is at war

Nothing new about that. Mexican fast food chain, Taco Bell, broke into a new menu daypart last week: Breakfast; and they did it with nothing better than one competitive (-and some may allege “creative”) advertising campaign. The “Big Idea”? Ronald McDonald. Wait? Isn’t Ronald McDonald a brand icon of one of Taco Bell’s major competitors? Absolutely, but humor and advertising can sometimes get along. Can’t they?

It all started with the idea of recruiting an army of people legitimately named “Ronald McDonald”, and –they were paid- to stand in front of a camera and literally say “Hi, I am Ronald McDonald and I LOOOOVEEE Taco Bell’s new breakfast”. Creative –sure. I’ll give them that.

As expected this went viral. I mean- Ronald McDonald “loves” Taco Bell? Of course the video quickly landed on all social media sites, YouTube, and every .com news/marketing site you could think of… As I saw how this satire spread all over the internet, I couldn’t help getting money-rolling eyed thinking of how much brand exposure Taco Bell was getting from this, and how much money they were saving on their media reach, because the truth is, the public was taking care of spreadin’ the word about Taco Bell and their new breakfast line.

So, after claiming that Ronald McDonald “loved” Taco Bell, of course McDonald’s responded gratefully for the admiration Taco Bell had shown. McDonald’s response was clever, clean, creative, humorous, and of course MTGV (made-to-go-viral). “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” was their response (Checkmate!) -Ouch, Taco Bell! That was a slap in the face accompanied by a cute picture of Ronald petting a little Chihuahua (AKA Taco Bell’s mascot).

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Was Taco Bell satisfied with this? Oh no.. They still had not one, but 2 (or maybe more) cards to play. Next comeback was a short social media video of a man (that seemed to be Ronald McDonald) taking off his red and white striped socks and putting on some new ones with tacos printed on them, all to the rhythm of “Old McDonald” and sealed with a “Ahh.. much better” line supposedly coming from Ronald. I mean… The breakfast war was on by now.

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Just in case this Taco Bell’s Ronald circus was not enough for Taco Bell to make a statement, they launched one more video using the same creative concept.

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So, after watching a war between tacos and Ronald, here are my two pennies: Clever, Taco Bell. Bravo. However, I was quite disappointed by the lack of strategic thinking on the development of the first commercial (Yes- the one with the “I’m Ronald McDonald and I love…). Taco Bell “Vive Mas”, has always taken pride on meeting the needs and wants of a hard-to-reach target demographic: Millennials. So why in the world, would Taco Bell use people from older generations (or older Millennials) to deliver that message? Did they skip “Targeting 101”? Yes, there were some young individuals on the commercial, and even a “Ronald McDonald Jr.”, but what’s with the setting? They couldn’t use a more vivid, young, colorful, “Vive Mas” kind of set?

On a different note, -again, kudos to TB for being creative, but someone’s gotta draw the line. How much more exposure do they want to create for McDonald’s? not just as a brand, but also as a breakfast destination? And let’s not forget the ultimate mention of the Egg McMuffin and how it’s been an icon of breakfast for decades. I mean, come on Taco Bell.. you gotta know that publicity is publicity after all…

It’s certainly been a week filled with a suculent breakfast war, whose’ gonna serve the next round? We shall see.

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10 Responses to Breakfast is at war

  1. Robert says:

    Hi Vanessa!

    This is a great post and very current. It has been quite a spectical, and I agree, the “I am Ronald McDonald and I love Taco Bell” not connecting to the right target audience. Unless they really want to connect to us older folks. I’m sharing this video from FrontLine that Caroline shared with me. Part of it talks about Taco Bell and how they are very good with connecting through the social media channels.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/generation-like/

    There may be an idea to connect with many segments of the population. It might come down to what people identify as a healthy breakfast. In fact, there was a segment about this on Nightline, I believe, last night. The indication was that TB is currently gaining on the McD giant in this category. Kind of proposing a David and Goliath scenario.

    http://abc.go.com/shows/nightline/listing/2014-04/12-nightline-0411-taco-bells-plan-for-winning-breakfast-fast-food-wars

    It will continue to be interesting as other fast food restaurants share their wares with the public. Carl’s Jr. sports one of the better morning biscuits, Burger King with their croissantwiches , and Wendy’s with their artisan breakfast sandwiches. They may be a bit behind these two powerhouses right now, but it could get interesting. The TB breakfast items look a bit carbo-fantastic, so it might come down to what people generally think is health. Like you say, “we shall see.” Nice job!

    Rob

  2. Michele says:

    Vanessa,

    After reading your post and watching these ads, I think that McDonald’s deserves the kudos in this breakfast war. McDonald’s tweet, which was probably put together with little advance notice, is more clever than either of Taco Bell’s commercials. It looks like Taco Bell has the right strategy to go after a share of the fast-food breakfast market and to target McDonald’s as the market leader but I agree with you that these commercials don’t seem to hit the mark. It seems to me that they would do better by featuring their offerings more prominently – show how the breakfast choices at Taco Bell are better than the breakfast choices at McDonald’s rather than just taking a lot of random Ronald McDonalds and having them endorse Taco Bell’s breakfast.

    It’s not related but I think that David Letterman used the same name factor much more interestingly: The Top 10 Reasons I’m Glad to be named Justin Beiber

  3. jasonwilson says:

    Hi Vanessa,
    I agree. I think the McDonalds response was brilliant and understated. I think Taco Bell’s strategy is smart, and will likely be effective, but I do not think it will really make a significant dent in MCDonald’s market share. I do not think “taste” is a significant value driver for people who choose McDonalds. Typically it is chosen due to proximity, convenience, or familiarity. Changing the conversation regarding to the taste of the new breakfast menu, might not change the behavior of those who currently choose McDonalds, because it ignores the reason they choose it in the first place.

  4. Pete says:

    Vanessa:
    What I have found in my half-way to 70 years is that the Golden Arches always wins. Creative, cute, memorable, successful – on all counts, yes. But whether BFast or Lunch or what ever (ice cream) – McD’s works for those here in the U.S. and even abroad. After all, wasn’t McD’s founded in Peoria (Illinois) — and the old cliché, if it plays in Peoria, it will work. Though serving my tour in Iraq during 2006, I do remember seeing more Burger Kings AND Taco Bells than McD’s. For full disclosure, I had dinner at the Golden Arches w/ my fam. Top notch post!
    -pete

  5. Jared Maxwell says:

    Hi Vanessa,

    Great blog post. I’ve been following the activity between these two brands and my take on this is that them both being involved in this friendly exchange between fast food mega franchises, both of them are gaining attention for the better. Granted, Taco Bell’s was intentional, but McDonald’s wasn’t and they’re bringing some positive attention to themselves as being fun and responsive. In the end, we all know that no competitor of McDonald’s would take their market share — especially Taco Bell, because they just got into the game.

    This whole situation reminds me of when Oreo and Kit Kat tweeted at each other, which was highlighted in this ADage article. It was fun for people to watch on Twitter: http://adage.com/article/creativity-pick-of-the-day/oreo-kit-kat-play-tic-tac-toe-twitter/240509/

    Nice work on this.

    -Jared

  6. Bonnie Sellers says:

    Vanessa,
    Great post, and I have to say, I saw the first Taco Bell commercial but somehow managed to miss the war.

    I think this is a really interesting turn of events because, by creating this back-and-forth and engaging McDonalds, they have very slyly positioned themselves as the main competitor with McDonalds. It’s not Burger King. Not Wendy’s. Not even Subway. It’s cleverly placing them as the automatic alternative to McDonald’s. (Consumer: Do we want McDonald’s tonight, or Taco Bell?”)

    I agree that Taco Bell really took a risk here in giving McDonald’s so much exposure within their own advertising dollars. But the juxtaposition of Taco Bell, with its bright colors and seemingly fresher food, leaves McDonald’s seeming old, stale, and boring. My first thought when seeing the final commercial with Mr. Mullet eating a wrapped Egg McMuffin was, “How long might that have been sitting under the heat lamps at McDonald’s? Three days?” By pointing out this discrepancy between the two restaurants, Taco Bell is highlighting their fresh ingredients and ideas. They change up their menu and offer new choices (Hello, Doritos Taco) so often that it makes sense to consumers that they would eventually offer a mouthwatering breakfast. When I first saw the commercial, I hadn’t even occured to me that Taco Bell didn’t offer breakfast in the first place.

    Ronald McDonald as a marketing strategy was also a little dangerous. I do think there is enough association with Millenials, however. I certainly remember Ronald McDonald (though I am right on the cusp). I can’t say that younger consumers would have a strong memory of the older McDonald’s branding, but perhaps their association with McDonald’s in general would not be considered as strong.

    This is such an interesting dynamic between these two companies. I love the McDonald’s comeback. Wouldn’t it be a dream job to be in an agency where you crafted hilarious, creative comebacks for a living?

  7. Kara Seward says:

    Vanessa, great color commentary on the breakfast war.

    While, I have to hand it to Taco Bell for launching a clever campaign targeted to the viral web, I have to give kudos to McDonald’s for the touche. Taco Bell must have spent months planning the point-counter-point, but McDonald’s only had hours to create a classic tete-a-tete response.

    It’s almost as if the two brands planned the breakfast war!

  8. Dante Allen says:

    Vanessa,

    I’ve been following this “war” and think its kind of cute on behalf of Taco Bell. I don’t think anyone would have thought that Taco Bell was a legitimate contender for McDonald’s fast food or even just their breakfast crown, until they started marketing themselves as such. I mean, I doubt if executives in McDonald’s were sitting around thinking about how they can stay ahead of Taco Bell. This is an interesting example of the how the power of marketing can fuel, or stall your business. Good insight.

  9. Maru says:

    Hi Vanessa,

    I absolutely love when brands go to war like this. I have to hand it to Taco Bell, this was a pretty clever, yet very simple way of jabbing their competitor. I mean come on, this was genius, yet obvious in a sense. McDonalds’ response to the entire thing was full of whit and was hilarious. Taco Bell had major courage to go out against their competitor like this. Brands have to be careful that their strategies dont end up backfiring on them. For instance, there was plenty of Ronald McDonald reinforcing throughout these campaigns that customers might actual recall McDonalds more than Taco Bell…not the ideal outcome they would want to have out of this campaign. This also proves the importance of having social teams ready to respond in real-time, should they ever get him with a case like this for themselves. Well done! However, I’m wondering where that leaves Dunkin’ Donuts (I’m partial because they’re my PR client ha!) ??

  10. Jeffrey says:

    Hi Vanessa,
    You make a great point how Taco Bell’s approach may have been amusing, but it didn’t seem strategically effective. As understandable as it is that Taco Bell wants to move into new markets (or new meal times, as the case may be), take cute jibes at the McDonalds brand is not going to get them results. They need to make food tastier and easier to eat than the McDonalds breakfast offerings, and they haven’t succeeded in doing that thus far. However, like you said, it certainly is creative, and it’s very entertaining to see the back and forth between the two brands.
    Thanks for sharing!
    -Jeff M