When the Chips Are Down


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I first felt it in a hotel breakfast lobby last week – an internal, heavy sigh of exasperation. “Not that story again,” I said to myself while CNN played in the background. What was this latest media feeding frenzy? An out-of-control celebrity? Gridlock in Congress? A drought/flood/tornadicane superstorm to destroy us all?

Tacos. Tacos made out of chips.

More specifically, the launch of the second flavor of Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos. These are the taco shells flavored just like Doritos snack chips, sold exclusively at fast food chain Taco Bell. A year ago the Nacho Cheese variety turned this struggling company around, creating 1500 jobs and selling 375 million tacos.

The big story this time around is not only “Will Taco Bell do it again?” but also “Look how excited people are about tacos!” News outlets, including the CNN show I was half-watching, scoured Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter (#CoolRanchDLT) for reactions from ordinary people. This is important for 2 reasons. First, these tools are more powerful and more insightful, than any market research we’ve ever had before. They are a direct line into consumers’ unfiltered opinions. And secondly, by mastering them, Taco Bell has reached that holy grail of public awareness. Not only were thousands of customers talking about their new menu item, but now legitimate news media were talking about how everyone was talking about them.

That kind of coverage is reserved for the business success stories lodged in our collective unconscious. Think about the vivid images easily recalled when you hear someone say “New iPhone,” “midnight release of Star Wars,” or “Tickle Me Elmo.” Again and again, the most successful franchises not only make a great product, but create a buzz so great it becomes its own story. It’s a powerful place to be.

Taco Bell, at least for a brief time in our nonstop news cycle, joined those lofty ranks. I’d tip my hat to them, if my fingers weren’t covered in nacho-cheese flavored dust.
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