Taco Bell’s Crisis Control: Social Media as a Way to Cut to the Beef

February 16th, 2011

Three weeks ago, the Mexican fast food giant Taco Bell became the target of a class-action lawsuit in California. The suit claims that the chain falsely advertises its products as beef – that, allegedly, the meat is made of a meat mixture, including preservatives and agents, that does not meet Department of Agriculture requirements. Although the company won’t release whether the lawsuit has impacted sales, there has been an overwhelming public response to the lawsuit. Taco Bell patrons have taken to all sorts of media channels to express their anger and sense of betrayal over the lawsuit, once again proving that a company doesn’t need to be found guilty in a court of law to be found guilty in the court of public opinion.

However, Taco Bell has been quick to defend itself, releasing a statement claiming that, “the lawsuit is bogus and filled with completely inaccurate facts…and we will vigorously defend the quality of our products.” In an attempt to control the crisis and save the company’s reputation and status as the sixth-largest fast food chain in the U.S., Taco Bell has taken advantage of the accelerated pace of today’s technology and quickly released a series of ads, statements and videos.

For example, Taco Bell’s “Of Course We Use Real Meat!” video features President Greg Creed dispelling claims that the company’s meat is anything less than quality and explaining the exact breakdown of Taco Bell’s beef. While some critics have claimed that this has only drawn attention to the fact that the company’s product is not 100% beef, the video is effective in spreading Taco Bell’s message. Through this direct, no “bull” approach, Taco Bell is showing customers that the company takes the accusations seriously. 

In addition to the video, and in conjunction with its’ “Thank You for Suing Us” ads taken out in media outlets such as the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal, Taco Bell has also remained an active social media presence on Facebook and Twitter. In fact, Taco Bell even tweeted Stephen Colbert’s parody, Gordita Supreme Court, in an effort to make light of the suit and has encouraged Twitter followers to use the hashtag “#tacolove” to support the company. Additionally, Taco Bell bought the words “taco,” “bell” and “lawsuit” on search engines, so the company’s statement, website and video appear well above news stories related to the suit.  

Taco Bell’s rapid response demonstrates the power of social media in aggressive crisis control campaigns. While the multi-dimensional use of social media runs the risk of spreading awareness of the suit to those who haven’t yet heard about it, Taco Bell’s tell-all stance assures us that they are certain of the facts and their product and are willing to stake their reputation on it.

Posted Under: Crisis Communications, Public Relations
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2 Responses to “Taco Bell’s Crisis Control: Social Media as a Way to Cut to the Beef”

  1. Maureen says:

    Way to go Taco Bell. This is a great case to study. Thanks for posting.

  2. Jon says:

    This blog entry is a good example of the transparency that is necessary for companies in today’s social media world. It is refreshing to see Taco Bell take this issue head on and, in doing so, help spread the news of the lawsuit beyond more traditional media. They clearly believe in their brand and are even willing to make light of the allegations in both their YouTube and Facebook strategies. The company is taking the lawsuit seriously by addressing it and not avoiding the topic. But Taco Bell is also so confident in their product that they are going to have some fun with it too. Risky, yet admirable and again reinforces the need for transparency when using social media. Also, this example also gives the reader a valuable case study on how a company can still positively market itself and win public support during a public relations crisis.

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