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Beauty & Personal Care

Taco Bell’s 'Fresco' Take on DRTV

10 Jun, 2010 By: Jacqueline Renfrow Response

The international quick-service restaurant launches an infomercial for its Drive-Thru Diet.


Taco Bell Corp.’s Vice President of Consumer Insights/Marketing Tom Wagner was the leader behind the fast-food chain’s new Drive-Thru Diet menu, which helped Christine Dougherty lose 54 pounds.When Tom Wagner was challenged with answering the call for healthier choices at quick-service restaurant drive-thrus, the vice president of consumer insights/marketing for Taco Bell Corp. looked to a consumer survey for ideas. Of those surveyed by the Southern California-based franchiser, 69 percent said having better choices in the drive-thru would encourage them to eat better. In addition, only half of Americans believe they can stick to a low-calorie diet while ordering at the drive-thru, but 89 percent would like to try better choices of their favorite menu items if they were available.

Taco Bell, which does about 70 percent of its business via drive-thru, knew it had to answer the request and so in January 2010, the company introduced the Drive-Thru Diet, based on its Fresco Menu — seven items, all with less than nine grams of fat — which went live a year earlier.

The Fresco Menu caught on quickly after its 2009 introduction, and inspired consumers to write the company with praise and success stories. Perhaps one of the most compelling stories came from Christine Dougherty, of Pensacola, Fla., who lost 54 pounds by reducing her daily calories while eating from the Fresco Menu. It was the consumers’ reactions, combined with Dougherty’s story, that compelled the creation of the Drive-Thru Diet, the basis for Taco Bell’s first-ever long-form television commercial.

The Evolution of the Quick-Service Infomercial

Wagner was the leader behind the new Fresco menu and the Drive-Thru Diet project. A veteran of the quick-service franchise for 20 years, Wagner has served in a variety of roles from financial planning and acquisitions to market research. Now, after 15 years in the marketing department and as head of consumer insights, he is responsible for having a broad and strategically relevant understanding of consumers and the industry at large.

“It’s certainly one of the best jobs at the company,” Wagner says. “It lets me influence all major functions from operations to design to advertising and product pipeline development. Consumer insight looks into the brand and industry and the future as well. I keep track of all the economic data — information like unemployment, gas prices, etc., because they all impact our customers.”

Wagner and the marketing team have three goals in mind when it comes to consumers. First, it’s to drive awareness of products. Second, to drive a trial of the product. And finally, the third goal is to drive repeat business.

Like other quick-service restaurants, Taco Bell had been under pressure from the media and society to help solve the obesity epidemic in the U.S. So when faced with the challenge of the “better-for-you” initiative, as Taco Bell refers to it, Wagner set out driving awareness of Taco Bell’s new Fresco menu.

“I had to develop a strategy to attract people to the brand with something better for you, knowing that Taco Bell is part of the fast-food industry,” Wagner says. “This was not an easy task. So we looked toward a campaign that was not what you’d normally see.” Wagner decided on a 360-degree approach in all areas from print to social media and focusing on a strategy of people looking to better their eating habits.

The Fresco menu went up in January 2009, with the first step being the creation of the seven items with less than nine grams of fat. Taco Bell accomplished this by taking the cheese and sauces off of its favorite menu items and replacing it with salsa or pico de gallo. The idea was to still offer people their Taco Bell fix, but with less fat and calories.

The second step, after creating the menu, was to put some direct response marketing behind the launch. “Ever since we put it on the menu board, we’ve gotten people writing us letters saying they are eating off of it, and they found it’s a great way to reduce calories, lose weight and make smarter choices” Wagner says.

In fact, it was Dougherty who approached Taco Bell with her weight-loss story. She sent Taco Bell her before-and-after photos, showing how she lost 54 pounds while continuing to use the drive-thru. “Christine was proof that the diet delivered taste. We had Christine, the diet menu trademarked and the diet was relevant to consumers. We knew it would break through the clutter,” Wagner adds.

Wagner knew that putting Dougherty in a commercial on television would generate discussion, but Taco Bell wanted to play offense in the “better-for-you” space by launching the first-ever infomercial for a fast-food restaurant. The long-form commercial features Dougherty’s weight-loss transformation as well as helpful tips from the NBA’s dietitian Ruth Carey.

The call-to-action in the infomercial, as well as Taco Bell’s other Drive-Thru Diet commercials, is the opportunity to try an item from the Fresco menu. The national advertising drove consumers to the Web site, where they could download a coupon for a free Fresco taco.

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