I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m ashamed of myself.
Actually, I guess I’m more ashamed of the culture of which I am a part. As an advertising student, I often have conversations with my friends and classmates about our favorite ads. What makes for truly good creative? Which messages break through the clutter and actually make us pay attention? It’s a hard task, and when we see something that actually stands out, we notice.
When I first saw the new Taco Bell campaign, which features a group of men named Ronald McDonald affirming their love for its new breakfast menu, I was quick to think: how clever. I loved it. It’s funny in a subtle way, it’s paradoxical, it’s attention-grabbing, and most importantly, it’s different in style and direction than most other other ads in the fast food industry. When I saw McDonald’s response on Facebook, asserting that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” I chuckled to myself and thought something along the lines of: oh, the joys of social media. Finally, brands can just go at each other with such ease and timeliness. Fabulous.
Then, suddenly, it hit me. Good creative or not, the Taco Bell ads are intended to sell a product. Not just any product, but its Waffle Taco, which debuts on its new breakfast menu. And whether or not I can appreciate the creative, I can’t appreciate the fact that this campaign is just one of many that works behind-the-scenes to fuel the growing healthcare problems in America. More specifically, these are the types of campaigns that create a seemingly invisible layer of influence on our nation’s wellness. This is the biggest campaign in Taco Bell’s history, which logistically makes sense for them since fast-food breakfast is expected to grow by 9% in the next nine years. Sure, but why are these the messages that dominate our culture? A waffle taco for breakfast? Really?
I’m not trying to say that Taco Bell or fast-food restaurants in general are the sole problem behind our rising obesity and health problems. In fact, they’ve been making an effort to become more transparent and offer “healthier” menu items for years now; so in a way, I can appreciate the effort. I guess it’s better than not trying at all. What concerns me is the fact that this campaign is just one in the sea of messages that we receive every single day. The Waffle Taco spot is just one-half of a minute in your day, yet what impact is it really having on you? How likely are you to stop by a Taco Bell now and try one of these menu items instead of a healthier option? Even if you think the ad has no impact on you, as just one of the millions upon millions of persuasive messages you see and hear in your day-to-day life, the fact that these are the messages that dominate the food and restaurant industry’s advertising is a scary one indeed.
Where are all the positive messages about food? Why are the brands that sell the truly healthy, good for you and the earth products hidden so deep below the McDonalds and the Taco Bells of the world? It’s a sad realization that these big corporations have so much influence over us and can frame the way we think about food in this country. It’s no wonder that we have such problems with obesity when these are the types of messages we see on a daily basis. But for someone just starting out in the ad industry, it’s also an exciting and optimistic realization for me. There’s something missing in the way that food is being communicated and sold to us. There’s tremendous opportunity for brands that sell trustworthy food – you know, the kind that’s actually good for you – to break through and come up with creative just as good as, if not better, the Ronald McDonald Taco Bell campaign.
So why am I ashamed? Because I was susceptible to this ad just as everyone else probably is. I liked it, it made me laugh, it made me think. So while we can appreciate good creative, we just need to rethink what all this work is aimed toward. If we want to work to fix the growing healthcare problems that exist in our world, especially in the food industry, we can start by re-framing the way we communicate it.
(Again, this isn’t a personal bash against Taco Bell or any Taco Bell advocates out there. This is more focused on the way we are talking about food and how we can start to steer the conversation in a more productive, healthy, sustainable way.)