Taco Bell vs. McDonald's, "1984" style

taco-bell-ball-pit

It’s no secret that Taco Bell has been gunning for McDonald’s for a number of years, most recently in the breakfast arena. (Last year’s marketing featuring guys named Ronald McDonald got nearly as much free publicity as it did paid media.)

Well, Taco Bell is at it again, this time emulating another underdog trying to dethrone the reigning champ. This new Taco Bell short film/commercial borrows heavily from Apple’s 1984 masterpiece introducing the Macintosh. (See especially :24, :46 and 1:42 in the video below.) The accompanying microsite, creepy propaganda video, and posters make it a really enjoyable campaign, and it’s well executed. (I especially like the clever touch of the church bell in the quaint village ringing at exactly the same tone as the Taco Bell bell [2:33-2:45].)

 

But where the premise of Apple’s commercial worked for me, this new Taco Bell campaign — as enjoyable as it is — falls a little flat. Apple, in 1984, was truly the underdog. They had held the lead in the brand new personal computing space in the late 1970s, but Big Blue IBM had come storming back, taking over giant chunks of the market. This left Apple as the only viable alternative to a boring world of MS-DOS computing prompts, an underdog against a huge manufacturer of business machines.

The 1984 commercial (in addition to being timely since it was, in fact, 1984) played on the fears of a dystopian future outlined in George Orwell’s classic novel.  It was the radically different Macintosh against the same old, same old IBM.

But in 2015, there are dozens (hundreds?) of breakfast choices. And for number 6 (Taco Bell) on QSR Magazine’s top 50 QSRs list to be portraying themselves as the “octagonal” alternative to a thinly veiled number 1 (McDonald’s) seems incongruous. There is little difference between these two fast food restaurants in the food types, food sources, or delivery method, other than the shape of the wrapper.

Apple’s Macintosh was truly something revolutionarily different, whereas Taco Bell is just a different shape of basically the same fast food ingredients. If this campaign were from Chipotle, or another fresher/more sustainable/farm-to-table style alternative, this clever campaign would ring (forgive the pun) truer.

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