The internet was buzzing last week with Taco Bell’s riotous new commercial launching a highly creative attack ad against breakfast rival, McDonalds. “Routine Republic,” a 3 minute pre-released commercial, which officially aired during The Walking Dead’s 90-minute season finale, was an Orwellian masterpiece that showed an “outdated” brand as fundamentally dystopian.
Gabriel Beltron, in an Adweek post titled “Taco Bell Launches Cold War Against McDonald’s With Propaganda Imagery,” describes it best. Beltrone writes, “McDonald’s affable but intrinsically creepy mascot is reimagined as a sunken-eyed Stalinist clown (though perhaps bearing closer resemblance to Mao). He rules over a small army of look-alikes and an oppressed proletariat in a decrepit, cloistered city with a beefy security apparatus. Run-of-the-mill breakfast sandwiches are his preferred method of subjugation.”
Audiences loved it. They thought it was clever, original and creative. Marketing and ad people, however, were floored. To us, it’s a genius because it packages emotion and movement with a product. It understands us…and more importantly, it understand culture.
That’s what it really comes down to: culture. Who can see the ad and not think of The Interview, the recent comedic parody of North Korea that started near cyber wars. Taco Bell gets it: no one likes Communism, dictatorships, and unoriginality.
The commercial was anything but unoriginal. How do you take apart a brand that exudes fun and play, and turn it into something nefarious? Taco Bell did it and brilliantly. They turned clowns into eerily reimagined mindless foot soldiers – so that if I wasn’t scarred before, I certainly am now. They turned slides into threatening portals that facilitate Gestapo-like clowns that much cl . They even destroyed the idea of a ball pit, turning it into a final desperate attempt to keep you contained.
The use of sound was strategic too. You’re fed sound bites from the Routine Republic, with the only break in that monotony being the ‘escape’ soundtrack, “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones. After that the next sound of distinction is the now-ominous Taco Bell ring of the bell.
It’s a bell. It’s a bell we’ve heard a before, but with the right placement in the right ad, it becomes a sound of freedom. It becomes something we connect with. It becomes a calling. (If McDonald’s is listening, I have an idea for a come-back campaign that works against Taco Bell’s own branding)
This isn’t the first round between fast food giants. The Huffington Post’s, Carly Ledbetter writes an article titled “Taco Bell’s New Ad Portrays McDonald’s as a Communist State.” In it, she describes how “the so-called ‘breakfast wars’ between the two fast-food chains typically involve a few snarky exchanges.”
Taco Bell’s ad campaigns against rival McDonald’s, has escalated past a battle of the brands and taken on the face of political mudslinging where the focus of your message isn’t about how awesome you are, but rather how terrible your opponent is. The snarky exchanges Ledbetter’s talking about refer to a past creative campaign by the fast food chain. Prior to the recent “Routine Republic,” Taco Bell hijacked mascot Ronald McDonald by bringing together people legally named “Ronald McDonald” and having them declare their love for Taco Bell’s breakfast menu.
McDonald’s, holding the lion’s share of the breakfast fast food market, is a natural target for Taco Bell. The ‘Mexican’ fast food chain has worked hard in recent years to rebrand itself for a millennial crowd. “Routine Republic” just ensured they secured that goal. However, they didn’t just rely on an ad; they turned a commercial into a mini-movie and the mini-movie into a movement. You didn’t just see a commercial; you were called to action. Taco Bell supported the campaign by creating its own landing page, developing propaganda posters and even offering loyal supporters a ‘defector’ kit.