How To Nail Super Bowl Advertising

Taco Bell’s Big Game promotion got this writer hungry for a new product release.

Super Bowl advertising is just different. Viewers of the big game want to watch the commercials, and brands, usually, respond with ads of a higher quality. And this past Super Bowl was no different.

From the hilarious and heartwarming to the headaches, Super Bowl 50 served up a diverse slate of 30- and 60-second spots.

The thing about the Super Bowl, though, is it’s expensive. CBS, the network that broadcast the event, reportedly charged $5 million for a 30 second spot. And even in a game watched by 100 million or more attentive potential consumers, brands had to find additional ways to make an impression. For many, this meant releasing ads online ahead of the game as reported by USA Today, as of the Friday before the game, 40 ads and 130 teasers had been posted. According to YouTube, those who do post their ads in advance get, on average, 2.2 times more views than those companies that wait until game day.

(Of course, to get a product namechecked by Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning minutes after the final whistle is priceless:

And, according to the head of marketing communications at Anheuser-Busch, Lisa Weser, not sponsored:

But some brands took their Super Bowl promotional campaigns a step further, and weirder.

On Jan. 7, Taco Bell issued a press release publicizing the company’s return to the Super Bowl after three years and promising the launch of a new product. I say promising because Taco Bell kept the actual product a secret by playfully redacting its press release.


Taco Bell’s Press Release

An enterprising journalist first, and an unapologetic and easily impressed consumer of Taco Bell second, this release pulled at my heartstrings (the ones not yet clogged from years of CrunchWraps, Doritos Locos Tacos, and Quesaritos which I promise are all real things). I went down Taco Bell’s marketing rabbit hole, not knowing where it would take me.

I visited like the release asked me to and came face to face with my maker. A huge block of text that read Pre-Order What Could be Taco Bell’s Biggest Innovation Yet, with a picture of a mystery box covered in question marks. Did I click? I most definitely did.

Taco Bell wanted me to pre-order a product sight unseen that I would be able to pick up and eat the day before the Super Bowl, when it would be officially released to the rest of America in a spot you may have seen. The brand was testing us: were we true Taco Bell fans? Would we prove it by trusting the company to release something we the breakfast defectors and thinkers outside the bun would want.

Did I pre-order? Yes.

As Julius Caesar once said, the die is cast. I could pick up the creation Saturday from 2-4 at participating locations. For the next 48 hours I ate nothing but lettuce and didn’t sleep a single minute. Until, finally, the day arrived.

I had enlisted the services of two of my roommates. We had reserved three of whatever-it-was and drove to the Taco Bell a few minutes after two. The Taco Bell lot, of course, was full. Now, I’ve been going to Taco Bell for something like 15 years and have never seen so many people in one restaurant at one time. It was at once heartening to see the effects of successful marketing and disturbing that so many people were going to put this whatever-it-was in their bodies at the same time. Regardless, the drive-thru was empty. We were out of there with our gold cellophane-wrapped loot in less than three minutes.

I keep calling the product a whatever-it-was but we knew before we left the house. In making the pre-launch of the product a secret release, it correctly wagered that everybody would be talking about it. We saw it on Twitter. But it was also in news outlets and going around the blog circuit. I even found a blog from mid-January that knew about the product.

It was a Quesalupa. A hybrid quesadilla-chalupa (a deep-fried tortilla filled with ground meat, cheese, lettuce, sour cream, and salsa), it was basically a taco with a quesadilla for a shell. I took a bite before I realized I needed to document the moment in all its glory. Here’s an unfiltered, unedited picture of the beast:


A writerly lunch

And it was fine, in the way that eating most Taco Bell products is fine. It cost $3 and tasted like a super-cheesy taco. Was it worth the hype? Probably not. But would I get it again? Probably. I’m a simple man with simple tastes.

Lessons From Taco Bell

The Super Bowl is as much about the ads as it is about the game itself. And with that kind of awareness paid to the ads, it can be hard to stand out in a competitive crowd. Ask yourself a serious question: of the commercials you can remember from last night, how many do you remember the product being sold?

But by creating a complementary online campaign shrouded to some degree in mystery and anticipation, Taco Bell was able to differentiate itself from more traditional Super Bowl advertising and drum up serious interest in the always-important launch of a new product.

As with any marketing, Taco Bell succeeds by building a maximum amount of buzz in an effort to return the greatest on its investment. Is this launch the next big thing? as its 30-second Super Bowl ad would have one believe? Most definitely not, but it’s a good bet to see a surge in sales and online coverage in the next few days.

February 8, 2016

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