Taco Bell Uses Advertising Tactics to Defend Its Beef

Taco Bell Beef lawsuitTaco Bell was slapped with a false advertising class-action lawsuit this week claiming that their beef does not meet the USDA standards to be classified and advertised as beef. The suit filed by Alabama based law firm of Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, claims that in testing the beef it contained 34% beef and does not meet USDA standards to be called beef. According to the USDA Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book for taco filling, it must contain 40% meat and the label must show the true product name, eg: “Taco Filling with Meat,” “Beef Taco Filling,” or “Taco Meat Filling.” Food additives are not new and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines food additives “as any substance used to provide a technical effect in foods.”

These allegations can have catastrophic affects to the Taco Bell brand. Have they been lying to us all along? Is this 6% deficiency harmful to us? Do we believe the lawsuit because they said they had it tested and it contained only 34% beef?  Did they test just one taco from one restaurant or numerous from numerous locations? Do we even think this far into it when we hear allegations of this nature?

Taco Bell Uses Advertising Tactics to Defend its Beef

Photo credit: AP

Taco Bell hit to the traditional and digital media outlets to respond. Their “Thank You for Suing Us” campaign was via a full page ad in USA Today, New York Times as well as other publications and spoke directly to customers by giving them the truth about their seasoned beef. By directly addressing the lawsuit, they are drawing us in as we want to know what they have to say. They did not beat around the bush and pretend that we do not know that there is a lawsuit filed, no, they jumped in and addressed it. They take it a step further and try to connect emotionally with customers by comparing the beef they purchase to what customers buy in the supermarket.

In a statement on their website:

“The lawsuit is bogus and filled with completely inaccurate facts. Our beef is 100% USDA inspected, just like the quality beef you would buy in a supermarket and prepare in your home. It then is slow-cooked and simmered with proprietary seasonings and spices to provide Taco Bell’s signature taste and texture. Our seasoned beef recipe contains 88% quality USDA-inspected beef and 12% seasonings, spices, water and other ingredients that provide taste, texture and moisture. The lawyers got their facts wrong. We take this attack on our quality very seriously and plan to take legal action against them for making false statements about our products. There is no basis in fact or reality for this suit and we will vigorously defend the quality of our products from frivolous and misleading claims such as this.”

The President and Chief Concept Officer, Greg Creed also created a video on YouTube whereby he continues to talk directly to customers and tries to create the emotional connection with customers by pointing out the similarities of the Taco Bell beef preparation and how customers buy and prepare beef. He goes as far as giving away the “secret recipe” percentages.

“… Our beef is 100% USDA inspected just like the quality beef you buy in a supermarket and prepare in your home.”

“… Think of when you’re making chili. You add your own recipe of seasoning and spices to give the beef flavor and texture.”

“… Well, we do the same thing with our recipe for seasoned beef.”

“… It is our secret and I’m going to give it to you … “

Human Emotions and Advertising

Taco Bell is hoping that customers will create the visual of themselves at the store purchasing beef and then at home preparing the beef. This emotional connection is necessary to take the focus off of Taco Bell and put it back onto the customers themselves. If the customer can visualize themselves in the store buying beef and also at home preparing it with their own “secret” recipe then their perception of the Taco Bell brand is not diminished and the feeling of disgust is avoided. If the customers are disgusted, they will not return.

This simple human emotion of disgust is thwarted and Taco Bell is able to focus on maintaining the trust of their loyal customers. The exposure to the negativity that is now surrounding Taco Bell is going to cause us to react in some way. Whether we are customers or not. This external stimuli is going to affect our actions. If we never were customers, we certainly will not be now. The casual customer may return but order chicken and the loyalists who have repeatedly had a very positive experience will move closer to the brand and stand by Taco Bell. All this because of advertising. Amazing.

Motive of Lawsuit

Taco Bell is not new to scrutiny over their menu. Last year they launched their Drive Thru Diet Menu with a big disclaimer on their homepage that it was not a weight loss program and not a low calorie food. Um, ok. then diet is used because??? This appealed to many and while it was the butt of many jokes, it is said to have performed well for them. So, this brings me to thinking about the motive here of this lawsuit. The suit is not asking for monetary damages but just that Taco Bell not advertise their beef as beef. Interesting. Is anyone curious as to why a woman in California is being represented by a firm in Alabama? For jurisdiction, it makes a whole lot of sense to file in CA as Taco Bell corporate offices are there.

Is this a PR stunt by the firm to get some recognition and they happened to stumble upon someone that lived in CA, just the place they wanted to file? They are a personal injury/class action/helping the victims of wrong doing firm and even boast about their recent settlements on their website (which is in desperate need of a redesign and a copyright date change, ahem). For a class action, there needs to be a named plaintiff and what better to have one that lives in CA? If we think this is not a PR stunt, doesn’t it make you wonder as why would someone hire a lawyer and spend monies if there were no monetary damages? It is not all about the money however lawyers are not cheap and this could not be taken on contingency as there are no monies sought.

I am not a Taco Bell customer nor do I ever really frequent any fast food restaurants (except Chinese) but I did visualize myself in the grocery store looking at the ground beef. Did you?

What do you think? Is Taco Bell going to suffer from this? Does this lawsuit have any merit? Does this 6% under standard make us feel that Taco Bell was dishonest or does it matter to us?

taco bell food photo credit: BLW Photography

  • Very interesting post.

    Of course, my gut reaction (emphasis on gut) is that if you choose to eat at Taco Bell, you’re kinda asking for it. There have been all sorts of allegations like this over the years. Same with Chi Chis and Chipotle – there are always questions about how long that beef mixture is sitting there, if it really is beef, if the vegetarian burrito is really vegetarian…on and on.

    That being said, seems like BP could have gone to school on this. “Huh? There was an oil spill? Well, I’ll be durned.” oy.

    • Margie

      I agree on the fast food. If you are getting a $.99 taco are you really expecting that you are getting all beef and no additives? I hardly ever eat fast food so for me, it is not something I worry about and when I did, I just expect it to taste good and not cause any intestional eruptions. =-)

      They handled this straight on. They went in and said yes, this suit exists and we are going at it full speed ahead. Funny, have we heard any mention of Taco Bell since they did this? No. Other brannds should take notice.