In the last two centuries, you could measure society by its literature and poetry. Romanticism (1800-1850), for example, was a reaction to the Industrial Revolution – which in itself was a jarring experience that turned time and action in to a commodity and gave birth to bleak landscapes. In the following century, World War 1 gave rise to great literary works in which characters were scarred by war.
In another hundred years, they won’t need to read the books of our time to understand us. They’ll just need to look at our advertising campaigns.
Advertising, and marketing, have become the new mirrors through which we reflect society, our values, our frustrations and our yearnings. And though Taco Bell’s “Routine Republic” campaign highlighting a pair of #breakfastdefectors is really just about fast food, you’d be terribly wrong to think we’re just talking about food.
We’re talking about much more. We’re talking about the point at which three generations meet, discovering what they have in common. From Baby Boomers, to Generation X and newcomer Millennials, the one thing they all have in common is a desperate need to be free.
Though we’re not facing the bleak landscape of an Industrial Revolution, and nor are we facing a war at the horrific magnitude of World War I, we are facing something very real and psychologically jarring in a devastating new way: inauthenticity and regulation. Without getting into a long-winded discourse about how we’re more trapped than ever before in any time in history, we can agree that there is an increased amount of regulation and surveillance on our individuality than ever before. It’s despotic and Taco Bell gets that.
And audiences are raving over that connection.
The last three to four generations has seen has seen a significant push back highlighting dystopian societies. A move that officially spun out of the perfectly packaged lifestyles of the fifties, it’s an idea of dystopia that takes several forms. We saw it in 1948, when George Orwell published 1984, an ominous tale of a world to come that we see in Taco Bell’s “Routine Republic,” marked by the emphasis on ‘double speak’ in phrases like “same is happy,” and so forth. In the early 60’s and through the 70’s, we saw a faux-utopia – a place where everything seemed perfect but was not. Fauxtopia was captured in movies such as Soylent Green, Logan’s Run, and in TV shows like The Prisoner.
More recently, we’ve seen versions of dystopia in films like V for Vendetta, Hunger Games, Divergent, and so forth. We’re even seeing in it envelope-pushing mini-series like Black Mirror’s episode titled “15 Million Merits.”
Taco Bell understood this. It connected it’s brand, and that of rival McDonald’s with something we identify. We hear the Orwellian double-speak; we recognize V for Vendetta’s all-seeing ‘chancellor’ and the post-apocalyptic poverty found in Hunger Games. And finally, there’s the epic escape of the symbolic Adam and Eve as seen in Logan’s Run (later poorly remade as The Island). These are cultural anchors we recognize, including of course the brilliant chosen track by the Ramones, which had its own double meaning: a Blitzkrieg on routine.
For anyone still confused about why revolution and defection is really important, consider where else we’re seeing these strong currents.
The theme of revolution continues with TV shows like TURN and Sons of Liberty, as well as in other films like Snow Piercer, Branded, Minority Report, Matrix, Equilibrium, and so on.
We’re seeing it in literature, most famously with just about anything Neil Gaiman has written in the last decade, but even with Harry Potter and His Dark Materials.
We’re seeing it in the work place with thought leaders like Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell and a greater shift toward the free agent economy that allows people to be people first and workers second.
It’s everywhere. It’s in the fabric of who we are today as a people.
We are people who want to break free from routine, who want to reimagine a reality without control, and act as change agents with the freedom to determine our course – even if that means simply choosing a better breakfast menu.
Taco Bell gets this. They told a story – and a brilliant one at that. They shared a message we can all relate to or want to relate to.