Another week, another interesting corporate response to a crisis. This past week we have Taco Bell defending its honor against a lawsuit accusing it of misleading customers on claims of beef content in various taco products.
The official Taco Bell response – centralized on a page within their corporate website – typifies a “good offense is the best defense” approach. The company quickly raised the profile of the issue with sarcastic, defiant full-page ads in major U.S. newspapers. The response also features a video from the CEO Greg Creed (and taped interviews of the CEO with major networks), various fact sheets and a stern statement warning they will vigorously defend their integrity against the “bogus” lawsuit. The company also wisely leveraged its various social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook – which showcased messages of support from hundreds of fans, and even a spoof on the lawsuit response. To their credit, Taco Bell management didn’t seem to filter the comments on either platform to skew a positive response.
Not surprisingly, there is a range of opinions from PR pundits on whether Taco Bell is using the right approach. Check out these comments in a USA Today article. One writer on the Huffington Post argues Taco Bell may have permanently hurt its reputation by bluntly admitting its beef is bland and needs to be augmented with flavor and fillers.
From my perspective, the company did many things right:
- They jumped right on the issue clearly stating their case to ensure consumers heard their side of the story;
- The CEO has been very visible and is definitely – for better or for worse – the public face of the company;
- The company leveraged various communication channels – ranging from traditional media to social media properties – and formats to get its message out;
- Taco Bell has shown some creativity and bluster despite tackling a serious topic, which is consistent with their young, hip advertising image (think barking Chihuahuas);
- Messaging from Taco Bell has been consistent and concise, if somewhat shrill.
The problem with Taco Bell’s strident response is that it leaves no room for error – after loudly proclaiming its “beef” is 88% meat (and not 35% as argued in the lawsuit) the company has little leeway for compromise or back-tracking if the facts are proven otherwise.
It’s too early to tell if their aggressive response is working in the PR arena (and the lawsuit will likely take time to be resolved) but judging by the hundreds of comments I’ve seen Taco Bell has plenty of dedicated fans who don’t believe – or don’t care – that their beef may not be 100% beef. Taco Bell may be gambling that many consumers aren’t expecting high quality beef for tacos that cost a dollar or two. Ironically, maybe Taco Bell is still suffering from previous PR fiascos (like widely publicized videos of rats running around one restaurant), so expectations may be so low their brand will rebound from this latest attack. Let’s check in a few months time to see if there is any obvious impact on their sales or brand equity. In the meantime, keep reading those Twitter and Facebook comments.