Taco Bell didn’t owe anything to the citizens of remote Bethel, Alaska, after somebody pulled a cruel hoax, but the company saw a chance to build some good buzz and took it. Perpetrators papered the town in leaflets erroneously announcing the coming of a Taco Bell franchise, as part of a feud between two residents, according to police. The chain was not to blame, but the company jumped on the opportunity to do a nice thing for the citizens of Bethel. On Sunday, Taco Bell airlifted into town 10,000 Doritos Locos Tacos and a truck to serve them from, a move much appreciated by some of the 6,200 residents, whose only regular quickservice option is a single Subway store.
The potential arrival of a Taco Bell unit in a small town like Bethel would be big local news, as would the subsequent revelation that the news wasn’t true, but nothing about it spells “national” story. Nothing, that is, until Taco Bell decided to send its cheesy, crunchy care package to residents whose town sits 400 miles and a $500 plane ride from the nearest Taco Bell.
The delivery brought out the Alaska Dispatch, whose coverage included video of the truck’s arrival, and comments by former Bethel mayor Hugh Dyment, who took five of his seven kids to the event and said that, at times, it looked like there were 600 residents simultaneously feasting. The Associated Press spread the story, quoting CEO Greg Creed remarking, “If we can feed people in Afghanistan and Iraq, we can feed people in Bethel.” Creed declined to say how much Taco Bell spent on the party.
The company also didn’t specify how it had learned of the hoax, but these days it would be no surprise if the chain’s social media sites were the source. “We want to interview the community to talk about great things that are being done in the Bethel community,” Creed told Bethel Radio station KYUK. “And then use our digital and social presence. We have about 8.5 million Facebook followers. And what we want to do is get some recognition for all the wonderful things, all the community things that are being done in Bethel.”
Indeed, by Monday, the chain’s Facebook page was full of photos and messages about the air drop.
This story is the latest good news piece for Taco Bell, which last year struggled — and spent big on national ads — to counteract the negative fallout from a lawsuit that alleged the chain’s beef was more filler than meat, claims that were ultimately dropped. Since then, the chain has made plenty of positive news with new menu items, starting with the Doritos Locos Taco and followed by the recent nationwide rollout of an upscale menu created by celebrity chef Lorena Garcia and designed to appeal to fans of Chipotle Mexican Grill’s fast-casual fare.
As restaurateurs know, creating menu items involves plenty of R&D and long lead times before the big media splash. But every once in a while, circumstance provides the chance to build goodwill and generate buzz, if restaurateurs see the chance and take it.
How has your restaurant taken advantage of circumstances to please the people and generate publicity? Tell us about it in the comments.