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Why Taco Bell is Getting Multicultural Marketing Wrong

I2m_tacobelllogo Taco Bell has long had what I consider to be one of the best advertising taglines in the fast food industry – "Think Outside the Bun."  In just four words, they have managed to capture the entire essence of the brand and it’s place in the fast food landscape in a way that not only differentiates them, but carves a niche that no one else has truly been able to capture.  With the growing Hispanic population in America, their multicultural marketing efforts have increasingly focused on reaching a hispanic audience – with plans to do more.  Yet the one thing I haven’t seen yet from Taco Bell is any advertising focusing on a multicultural niche that they currently dominate … Indians.  What you don’t know about Taco Bell is that many Indians love it.  While this is a point that most Indian communities treat with some humor, the fact remains that Taco Bell stands out among fast food options for Indians and many other Asian communities.  Much of the menu is vegetarian, or easily modified for vegetarians.  You can order the food spicy or with extra hot sauce.  Taco Bell is often the only fast food these members of these niche groups will eat.

Yet when it comes to multicultural marketing, Taco Bell seems to be focusing on a reluctant Hispanic community and ignoring the others.  I am Indian – and I wouldn’t eat Indian fast food unless I was desperate.  It’s easy to imagine that a Mexican consumer might have the same view about Taco Bell.  Changing that opinion is a tough uphill battle going against a deeply imbedded world view.  It’s not a battle they will win.  Wouldn’t it make more sense for Taco Bell to focus some of their multicultural ad dollars on the Indians and other niche markets like us?  This is a common strategic hole in multicultural marketing today … that it is often boiled down to solely allocating a small slice of budget to reach Hispanics and African Americans.  These are the two largest minorities in the US, yet marketing to different cultures requires a broader view than just translating ads to spanish and changing imagery to include African Americans (which is, sadly, the extent of many "multicultural" marketing campaigns).  Multicultural today means thinking more broadly and understanding better where your niches are.  Are you targeting your multicultural consumer right – or are you unintentionally ignoring some of your best customers?

Updated Disclaimer (12/20/06) – Recently, Taco Bell has started working with Ogilvy PR and is now a client.  At the time of this original post, however, I was not aware of any work being done for them by Ogilvy PR.

6 thoughts on “Why Taco Bell is Getting Multicultural Marketing Wrong”

  1. Pingback: Anonymous
  2. I agree. I had written on a similar note a few months ago and one of the responses I recieved was that the numbers of the South Asian community are nowhere in comparison with the Hispanic or African-American. I think South Asian border around 3M in USA right now, and although it is one of the more affluent ethic communities, I’ve not seen a single brand except L’Oreal target the South Asians.
    Sad that most brands still only look at numbers when they should be thinking outside that box.

  3. The total market potential of hispanics is much greater than the Indian population. It is growing much faster too, so it only makes sense for them to target their message that way.

  4. I think you are right on about the Indian population being a good target for Taco Bell. I have also noticed that pizza is very popular among the Indian community. Round Table or Papa Johns or some new upstart could definitely develop a strong niche with the right PR and marketing.

    (On a side note: Best slice of pizza I ever had was from an Indian Restaurant that served pizza-by-the-slice for the late night crowd up in San Francisco.)

  5. Rohit, you hit the nail on the head. As a member of the Indian community, I can personally vouch for the fact that Taco Bell is a hit among the Indian population. A lot of us are spice-loving vegetarians and Taco Bell’s offerings definitely hit the spot. You made a good analogy about reluctance in the Hispanic community to embrace Mexican fast food – I think it’s safe to say that one who truly knows and is familiar with the home-cooked version is not going to jump at the availability of its quick-cooked counterpart. I would love to see Taco Bell commercials feature Indian faces and even expand the menu to include more spicy vegetarian goodies!

  6. Although I think you have a good point, in defense of their current marketing campaigns, I also think it makes sense to embrace the inherent hispanic nature of Taco Bell since they do afterall sell tacos and burritos.


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About Rohit

A keynote speaker on trends, innovation, marketing, storytelling and diversity.

Rohit Bhargava is on a mission to inspire more non-obvious thinking in the world. He is the #1 Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of eight books and is widely considered one of the most entertaining and original speakers on disruption, trends and marketing in the world.

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