SocialHow Taco Bell’s social strategy made its Mexican Pizza a sell-out success
How Taco Bell's social strategy made its Mexican Pizza a sell-out success
"Social conversations are not proprietary information, so everyone has access to what people are talking about. What separates us is the ability to move quickly. All the right people, in the same room, at the right time"
From McDonald’s Szechuan sauce to KFC’s Double Down burger, fast food chains receive unending demands to bring back cult items that left their menus. Taco Bell is no different, but thanks to its social listening capabilities, has brought back the fan-favorite ‘Mexican Pizza’ to sell-out success.
After 35 years on the menu, the Mexican Pizza was discontinued in 2020 due to the pandemic and a lack of demand. However, Taco Bell’s social listening strategy is first-class. By recognizing the demands of its fan base including influencer and music star Doja Cat, the Mexican Pizza relaunch was another fine example of tuning in to audience insights to deliver a compelling promotional campaign:
At the first relaunch in May 2022, Taco Bell fans swallowed down seven times the number of Mexican Pizzas being sold in 2020, resulting in a sell-out
13500 pieces of coverage (articles and broadcast) and over 15 billion earned media impressions
Mexican Pizza: The Musical currently has over 77 million views on TikTok
We tuck into this case study with Matt Prince, Head of Marketing Communications, Taco Bell, to learn how the fast-food chain has perfected its social listening capabilities.
A recipe for social listening success
Taco Bell leads the field in fan engagement. Take, for example, Taco Bell Weddings. After observing its customers proposing with sauce packets and using Taco Bell for wedding photos and catering, it built a wedding venue in Las Vegas. It has registered over 800 weddings in five years.
This social listening helped begin the successful journey to the Mexican Pizza re-launch. Having carefully listened to and engaged with fans for years, Taco Bell has developed deep brand love. From having dedicated screens and teams to knowing what channels to monitor, let’s break down how Taco Bell has its social listening down to a tee:
Taco Bell has a social listening headquarters in its office in Irvine, California.
It is fondly known as the fishbowl and has a huge panel of screens with live feeds of fan discussion from online communities.
“One of the things that set Taco Bell apart is how quickly we’re able to move to amplify what we call ‘the Taco Bell cult’ through our social listening. The fishbowl has twelve monitors powered by NetBase Quid that show us real-time conversations.”
“It’s where our insights are born. Starting with fan behavior, cultivated by listening and amplified in a culturally relevant way. It’s no longer a brand inventing conversation, it’s partnership with our fans that brings that brand love to life.”
Having a dedicated space for social listening highlights how vital these insights are to Taco Bell’s marketing communications strategy.
Monitoring social channels
It is critical to show up where your customers are but to do so in an authentic way. Identifying the right channels is the first step toward this.
Taco Bell has found certain platforms to be easier to track and monitor than others.
“These conversations are typically showing up across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, as well as TikTok. As platforms like BeReal gain steam in the marketplace it adds new listening challenges and opportunities for how brands show up.”
“Each platform brings forth it’s own unique set of valuable opportunities within social listening. It’s not one strategy across the board.”
No two APIs are created equal – and as measurement continues to evolve withing newer and emerging platforms the importance of the right social listening tools has never been greater.
Facilitating collaboration between marketing and operations
Understanding customer insights requires collaborations across teams and divisions.
Breaking down silos between marketing and operations has allowed Taco Bell to unify insights from its customer service team with knowledge from brand relevance or community managers that sit on the social media team.
“Social listening was born out of crisis response for the brand. It was a way to gauge consumer sentiment and conversations dealing with opportunities coming straight from the consumer. Social quickly became the evolved version of the call center. Our Netbase Quid social listening dashboards often served as the first line of defense.”
“Now the team can draw from positive responses, like customer weddings or requests to bring back the Mexican Pizza. The two teams can run in-sync and feedback to each other. We bring these insights into our communications plans as a result.”
To make these insights actionable, Taco Bell has developed practical structures and processes. It runs internal incubator programs, where teams from any department can pitch to the C suite. Moreover, daily 9 am stand-ups bring together people from internal communications, PR, social, operations, and legal, to form a quick moving brand support team.
“Social conversations are not proprietary information, so everyone has access to what people are talking about. What separates us is the ability to move quickly by having all the right people, in the same room (sometimes virtually), at the right time.”
The return of the Mexican Pizza
When Taco Bell discontinued the Mexican Pizza in 2020, despite not being widely ordered, it was hailed as a cult hero. Calls for the Mexican Pizza to be brought back were championed by rapper, singer, and influencer Doja Cat, among others.
Within two weeks of the product coming back, sales were seven times higher than in 2020 when the Mexican pizza was originally on the menu. It also created several viral moments that continued to build brand awareness and brand love amongst Taco Bell fans:
Mexican Pizza: The Musical has recorded over 77 million combined views on TikTok. Other TikToks for the Mexican Pizza relaunch have generated over 100 million combined views
Doja Cat’s original Tweet to bring back the Mexican Pizza has recorded over 52,000 likes, and nearly 4,000 retweets and quote tweets. This is one of the countless Tweets from Doja Cat, each with tens of thousands of impressions
13,500 pieces of coverage (articles and broadcast) and over 15 billion earned media impressions
Taco Bell was aware of fan demands but it was not as simple as reinstating the menu item. It requires a lot of dedicated ingredients that take time to move through the supply chain. Harvesting the chili peppers for the sauce takes nine months alone.
But, through social and earned media, the Taco Bell cult was voicing its collective frustration. So, Taco Bell decided to bring the Mexican Pizza back but had the task of sustaining the interest over a prolonged period. It brought both influencers and typical customers into the conversation on social media to keep the interest going.
Social listening part one: Doja Cat
Taco Bell started to seed a marketing campaign with Doja Cat. It had a full year to continue the conversation. Allowing Doja Cat to retain full creative control over her communications and assume the mantle of the ‘antihero’ kept the excitement alive. This culminated in Doja Cat announcing the return of the product on stage at Coachella.
“It wasn’t contrived. It wasn’t scripted, it was truly authentic and genuine. She was the anti-hero in a narrative where the Taco Bell cult advocated for something they loved and truly believed in.”
Krish Jagirdar, a fan based in New York started a petition to bring the Pizza back. It recorded 171,692 supporters. Taco Bell brought him into their campaign. Krish was alongside Doja Cat as first-in-line to get the product when it came back.
This was yet another example of stellar social listening, centered on engaging fans and allowing them to bring their voice to Taco Bell’s audience. Building a fast-moving culture, as Prince described, allows Taco Bell to give fans the responsibility to create and define its content strategy. The result is authenticity of the highest order.
Social listening part three: Mexican Pizza: The Musical
A fan, Victor Kunda, took Doja Cat’s content and stitched it together into a musical. Taco Bell saw this content on TikTok and asked decided to build out Mexican Pizza: The Musical with his help, alongside Doja Cat and Dolly Parton.
“At each turn, our social team leaned into our fans and helped take it one step further. There’s a beauty in the risk that comes with relinquishing control. We’re lucky to have such a passionate fan group. Our biggest opportunity comes with amplifying their voice.”
Lessons and look ahead
Taco Bell has developed social listening capabilities across several years of unique fan engagement. This has included Taco Bell weddings or ‘The Bell,’ the Taco Bell hotel.
However, this activation in particular taught Taco Bell the lesson of relinquishing control and leaning deeper in authentic brand moments.
“You have to show up in an authentic way. Especially when it comes to Gen Z, brands can no longer rely solely on advertisements. It’s combining paid, earned, and owned resources that fuel culture with real food, unique experiences and relevant content.”
Taco Bell is already implementing this learning. Recognizing the popularity of bringing back a fan favorite, it has launched a campaign where fans vote for one of two nostalgic menu items to return: The Double Decker Taco or the Enchirito. Once again, it puts the power in the hands of the Taco Bell cult.
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