I have to hand it to Taco Bell for being both devastatingly brilliant and unforgivably evil. In a new campaign called the Fourth Meal, they’re pumping the fourth meal (yes…“the meal between dinner and breakfast”) with a dazzling disregard for health, ethics, decency and taste.
Normally, I tend to admire rebels and rule-breakers. I don’t exactly have best friends over at Big Pharma. And I understand Taco Bell isn’t in business to kiss babies and hug Aunt Sue. Taco Bell is in business for the same reason everyone else is: to make some cash. Hopefully, you can make some cash while doing something good. Not so with el Taco. To that end, their marketers are brilliant.
Running a late-night campaign obviously aimed at college kids, night owls and (let’s be frank) bar flies – and being so blatantly cavalier about – is smart business.
The website is so cool, it’s appalling. At the site, viewers can choose to enter as a hip young man or woman. Next up, you pick trendy threads to wear. You navigate a late-night, funky urban street. Via a glossy black virtual handheld device (of course), you can talk, make buddies, and play – you can become a “Fourth Mealer”.
That’s right: Taco Bell is pushing an entire online community a la MySpace, Friendster, Squidoo (and your very own Mark’s Daily Apple) devoted entirely to feeling cool about scarfing a late night meal complete with the Taco Bell version of the four food groups: Melty, Crunchy, Spicy, Grilled.
Hey, I was a college kid once; maybe you were, too. We’ve all had a wild night (or ten) at some point in our lives. I don’t hold anything against Taco Bell for wanting to make a buck. In fact, I advocate a fourth meal – in the sense that I advocate several small meals throughout the day to maintain appropriate blood sugar levels and keep the metabolism firing full speed ahead.
But let’s consider, just for a second, if Taco Bell could have done something different. Kids are smart. They also like to rebel against authority. Don’t we all?
What if Taco Bell had incorporated a few healthy items into their menu, marketed them as still being tasty (surely the food chemists can handle that order), and gone with the whole Fourth Meal campaign anyway. Only, instead of advocating the late-night consumption of complete garbage, pitching the healthy Fourth Meal as something only college kids and night owls would really “get”.
Taco Bell: “Hey, it’s late. The parental units are home in bed and feeling great about their three squares. Your boss thinks you’re still at the office and your professor thinks you’re studying for that exam. Right. All the nerds are probably reading and listening to Beethoven. But you need a little veg, a little protein, and a little taste – now. So you’re eating a cheap, fast, healthy meal because you have a life. You’re a fourth-mealer. You either get it or you don’t.”