Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Taco Bell: Marketing Genius and Taco Extraordinaire

It’s incredible when a well-known brand is able to change up their advertising strategy, whether it’s a new slogan or logo, and come out unscathed by the general public. Seriously, people connect with their favorite brands and change is hard. That’s why we should all tip our hats and give a round of applause to the late night mogul, Taco Bell. They don’t have a “special sauce” that they advertise, but they certainly have a “special sauce” when it comes to their marketing.

Taco Bell has had a few rough patches throughout the years, there’s no denying that, but instead of quietly disappearing into the background they’ve come back stronger and smarter than ever. They have never been shy about their marketing and are bold in the way they reinvent themselves, even introducing French fries to their menu in January 2018.

How has Taco Bell found such extraordinary success?

They Reinvent Themselves 

Taco Bell dares to constantly change up their branding strategy and try something new. As the world evolves with new graphic design trends, changing societal rules, and updated technology, their company logo needs to evolve to reflect those times. It wouldn’t make sense to use the same logo they used during their humble beginnings, not when so much has changed for the fast food juggernaut.

Take a look at a timeline of Taco Bell’s logo, from when the company started in 1962 all the way to today.




They Know Who They Are

Being genuine and true to who you are as a person gets you more friends, right? The same idea applies to brands. Taco Bell is a Mexican quick-serve restaurant, not a three star Michelin-rated restaurant, and they’ve accepted that. While other restaurants may downplay the fact they offer a drive-thru, Taco Bell proudly stands behind that fact with a self-aware sense of humor and a late night menu. We all know where to go at 3 AM after celebrating our friend’s birthday.

Their food may seem unhealthy and stomach turning, but sometimes that’s exactly what we want. Something crunchy, affordable, and fast. Taco Bell knows they’re catering to people with a few dollars in their pocket and the munchies. That’s why they get inventive with their menu, offering items such as the Black Jack Taco, Kit Kat Quesadilla, and Beefy Fritos Burrito. However, they never stray too far from their roots, making sure to also sell old-fashioned favorites like: tacos, nachos, burritos, and quesadillas. They haven’t forgotten the staples that made them famous in the first place.

They Know Their Target Market

Other restaurants may have thought that only elementary and middle school-aged people ate Doritos, but not Taco Bell. They know that you’re never too old to enjoy this snack food, and if they can recreate it and make it a part of the main course of the meal, even better!

They seem to be aware that their target market is those of us between 18-34 years old who know that eating healthy a taco or two or three from time to time. Keeping up with the times, Taco Bell also knows how important it is to keep healthy, vegan options on their menu. Think of them as a jack of all trades!

You’ll notice that their ads often feature the young “in crowd,” enjoying their meal in the parking lot while the sky is dark and starry. Of course, they’ve branched out from this mold, which is why their brand is cheeky and self-aware. During Super Bowl XLVII, they introduced a commercial with a bunch of rowdy, elderly folk partying while they ate their taco supremes.

Check out this memorable ad!


They’ve Got Social Media Figured Out

Some brands just beg to have their pages liked, but don’t come through by saying something interesting. This makes them a nuisance on social media rather than a welcome part of your thread. It could be that they post way too often, their postings are too salesy, or a horrible combination of the two. Taco Bell has figured out how to speak directly to their audience, more like a personal friend than a business.

Their posts aren’t revolutionary, just down to earth and comical. When people are on these social sites, they’re using them to connect, whether it’s with friends, family, that ex from high school, or a company. People want to interact with people, not an emotionless entity. Don’t try to be your customer’s best friend, just be genuine. Take Taco Bell’s Twitter feed, for example, which shows that as a company you can promote yourself and people won’t unfollow you:

Brief History of Taco Bell

At the ripe age of 23, Glen Bell started his very first restaurant, a hot dog stand in sunny California. Fast forward two years later and he expanded his menu to include hamburgers, milkshakes, and naturally, tacos. No telling if he combined his hot dogs and tacos in unique ways a la the Doritos® Locos Tacos Supreme (which made $1 million a day when it first debuted). He called his restaurant “Taco Tia” and his cuisine was a huge hit, making Mexican food available “to-go” for the first time in the United States. In 1962, Bell sold all four of his Taco Tia locations and opened the very first Taco Bell in Downey, California, the same town that opened the very first McDonald’s!

Taco Bell is by no means a perfect company, but they seem to have a lot of things figured out when it comes to understanding their customers. They are willing to reinvent themselves, know who they are as a company, understand their target market, and stay with the times on social media. Not every brand should start making tacos (seriously, who wants to eat a taco made by their dentist), but every business can certainly use some of Taco Bell’s “special marketing sauce.”

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa loves food. A LOT. Particularly pizza and popcorn, but she knows beggars can’t be choosers. When she’s not stuffing her face (which is rare), she loves watching movies, playing volleyball and softball, and engaging in any number of interesting shenanigans. If she had to pick a spirit animal, she’d be an otter because they are playful and love to laugh. Most of the time she’s laughing at herself, whether other people are laughing with or at her is to be determined.


  1. Jeff Porretto

    It takes just about all my strength to not get taco bell everyday. I used to live directly across the street from one. I could see the sign from pretty much anywhere in my house. It might have been the greatest time in my life now that I think about it. I know none of this has to do with your post, but I don’t need any of their advertising, I’m already hooked! =]

    • Amy Swanson

      I can’t imagine living across the street from one, that would be the ultimate test of willpower!

  2. Mikey

    I have to agree, …more companies SHOULD be making tacos! I kid, I kid. I have to admit, I had never really paid much attention to Taco Bell’s marketing, at least not since they stopped using the little dog in their ads, so I didn’t really notice the shift in their marketing strategy. But, it definitely seems to be working, considering the success that they’ve been having. And now I can appreciate Taco Bell not just as a purveyor of tasty food, but as a company that is competent at promoting its products and reaching its audience. Good post and a fun read!

    • Amy Swanson

      I’m so glad you liked the post! For some reason it took me longer to write than I thought, just couldn’t get the right wording and thoughts portrayed.

      I’m not sure why they’ve shifted their marketing, but I think they’ve found a winner with their latest campaign 🙂

  3. Jenna Markowski

    It’s taking everything in me to not just comment, “I LOVE TACO BELL! I LOVE TACO BELL! I LOVE TACO BELL!” and just leave it at that. We all know that I love Taco Bell, and one of the reasons is because of how well they market their brand. I follow Taco Bell on Twitter and on Facebook, and their posts always crack me up!

    They also recently partnered with Andrew W.K. (a.k.a the king of party), and honestly I’m surprised it took them this long. It seems like a match made in heaven. As you stated, it’s good that they’ve completely embraced their brand and aren’t attempting to trick anyone into believing they’re something they’re not. YAY TACO BELL!

    • Amy Swanson

      Hahaha, I thought about ending the post with an entire paragraph of “I LOVE TACO BELL! I LOVE TACO BELL! I LOVE TACO BELL!” but figured that may be just a bit much 😉

      I’m with you and being surprised it took them as long as it did to partner up with Andrew W.K. They’ve got the cool rocker, late night partying thing going on that totally plays into their target market.

      YAY TACO BELL indeed!

  4. Amy Swanson

    I love that they don’t come out and say, “hey, we’ve got good, cheap food that tastes amazing at midnight!” But…. that’s what comes to mind when I see their ads.

    Can’t wait to check out your blog post about their new Cantina Bell menu. I haven’t tried anything from it, so I look forward to reading your thoughts on it 🙂

  5. Amy Swanson

    Thanks so much for the comment, Rachel! I love coming across brands that aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel when it come to social media. They’re just having a good time and if people like their status about tacos, then it’s a bonus!

  6. Amy Swanson

    Thanks for the comment, Sarmista! Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  7. Mandy Kilinskis

    I love that Taco Bell has dropped the dog and has instead just opted to be themselves in ads and on social media. It feels about as authentic as a brand can get online.

    Man, I love Taco Bell. And I love their Doritos Locos Tacos. They don’t pretend to be something they aren’t, and that’s awesome. 😀

  8. TB Dunn

    Nice little ad. Listen. Taco Bell makes money because their food is cheap. End of story (or ad).

  9. Kei Asakura

    I am currently reading this post while eating late night Taco Bell. But anyways very interesting post! I think it is very impressive how Taco Bell stays true to what its food and brand represents. I’m currently a student majoring in PR, and learn most of our classes we just learn about all these companies who fail to do that, so it is truly refreshing to hear a success story.

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