Thank You for Suing Us

This semester in English we have focused on the food industry, namely the impact of fast food on our nation. We were recently asked to find an advertisement from one of the major fast food companies and identify what was false or omitted form the advertisement, that might change consumers mind. I have included my paper below about a recent Taco Bell advertisement. I have also posted my resigned advertisement with the truth as I see it.

My Paper:

In response to a recent lawsuit, Taco Bell ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal stating that the claims made against their seasoned beef were absolutely false. The lawsuit, filed in California courts, accuses Taco Bell of misleading its customers by claiming they use, “seasoned beef” in their products, when in actuality they do not. This Taco Bell advertisement claims that Taco Bell uses 100% USDA inspected beef mixed with water, a blend of unnamed spices, oats, yeast and other ingredients to make its seasoned ground beef; while this may be true, Taco Bell cleverly leaves out multiple ingredients that mislead consumers on what they are actually consuming, effectively influencing consumer perspectives with their large media presence, and inadvertently perpetuating our nations youth obesity crisis.

The Taco Bell advertisement claims that Taco Bell uses seasoned ground beef in many of its products, but what they are actually using is what Taco Bell internally calls, “taco meat filling” (Court Case, 7). In many other print advertisements, as well as television advertisements, Taco Bell says that it uses seasoned ground beef or beef in its products. For example they describe their “Fresco Soft Taco” as “a warm, soft flour tortilla filled with seasoned ground beef, crisp shredded lettuce, and fiesta salsa” (Court Case, 4). According to the class action lawsuit filed in California, “Internally, Taco Bell refers to its ‘seasoned ground beef’ and ‘seasoned beef’ as ‘taco meat filling’ even labeling the containers shipped to its restaurants correctly, while not telling the customers” (Court Case, 7). This misleading information can cause consumers to expect something that they do not actually receive. To be labeled “ground beef” by the Federal Government the beef must not contain “water, phosphates, binders, or extenders” (Court Case, 7). In the advertisement response, Taco Bell specifically says it adds water to its beef products therefore making it unlawful for them to call their product “ground beef”. While the Taco Bell advertisement does list some of the specific ingredients used to make their beef products, like water, Taco Bell also uses elusive phrases such as, “Mexican spices and flavor” and “other ingredients” that leave the more inquisitive reader wondering just what those are. According to Eric Schlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation, “complex flavors are being made through fermentation, enzyme reactions, fungal cultures, and tissue cultures” (128), allowing fast food companies to cleverly “(hide) the fact that flavor compounds sometimes contain more ingredients than the foods being given their taste” (125). This highly scientific method of preparing your seemingly simple meals from Taco Bell creates disparity between what Taco Bell wants you to believe you are consuming and what you are actually consuming.

Being the largest Mexican fast-food company in America, Taco Bell spends approximately $260 million yearly on advertising, which they use effectively through advertisements such as the one in the Wall Street Journal, to sway the views of their consumers. This specific advertisement declaring that all claims were completely false is a strong statement that only a powerful company, like Taco Bell, could make. By taking aggressive action, Taco Bell tries to protect its strong reputation among its over 35 million customers per week. “In cases like these you have to respond to the public’s perception of the problem as much to the facts of the situation” (CEO, 184), says David Novak, president of Yum! Brands, the largest restaurant company in the world. Through the use of bold statements and rebuttals posted on social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Taco Bell can quickly change the public’s view of this lawsuit. “Most people are not bothering to check the facts” (WSJ), effectively allowing Taco Bell to reduce the negative impact this type of lawsuit could bring through simple, assertive statements. The power behind the Taco Bell brand was created through a combination of Glen Bell’s innovative technique of saturating neighborhoods with multiple Taco Bell restaurants and the Yum! Brands purchasing cooperative that gives them major leverage in their purchasing options. “Collectively, we buy about five billion dollars’ worth of goods each year, which makes us the biggest buyer of food products in the world” (CEO, 188), says Novak of Yum! Brands. Taco Bell’s ability to make such strong statements, that could potentially have to be rewritten, shows how strongly they believe in the power of their brand. They have created loyalty with their consumers, even if their food isn’t everything it says it is, “If it’s the same stuff they’ve always been selling, I’ve eaten it before, I’ll eat it again,” argues Mike Podlasek, a Taco Bell customer (WSJ).

The effectiveness of Taco Bell’s full-page, seemingly honest advertisement is accomplished by the strong brand loyalty Taco Bell has created, which now begins with our nation’s youth, greatly contributing to the perpetuation of our nations child obesity crisis. Our nations youth is the prime audience for fast food companies because they provide an opportunity for lifetime brand loyalty; they have the ability to bring in the elders in the family; and they are known for “their lack of impulse control” (Stuffed, 108). With budgets constantly being cut for our public school districts, school officials have sought elsewhere for funding and large fast food companies, such as Taco Bell, were eager to pick up the slack. Schlosser states in Fast Food Nation that through a variety of means, “fast food chains are marketing their products in public schools” (FFN, 52), with Taco Bell being served in “about forty-five hundred school cafeterias” (FFN, 56). These, “pay-for-play corporate subsidies” (Stuffed, 109) create more money for the school districts, without raising our taxes. These types of decisions “were made with little to no care for the consumers’ well-being,” says Hank Cardello, former executive of Coca-Cola and General Mills. “All we thought about was market expansion and our own bottom line” (Stuffed, 20). Through his comparison of the food industry’s affect on our nations’ children through school lunch programs to the ban of occasional cupcake parties in schools, Cardello argues in his book, Stuffed: an Insider’s Look at Who’s (really) Making America Fat, that we are merely fighting the emotions of society and not our real problems. The fact that “jellybeans and popsicles are banned, but Snickers and Dove bars are allowed” (Stuffed, 113), shows how our government does have the power to, “intervene and potentially restrict what (children) should or shouldn’t be eating,” while also, “[highlighting] government’s shortcoming in getting to real solutions for our collective health and obesity problems” (Stuffed, 118). By providing a host of unsubstantial food options, companies like Taco Bell directly contribute to our high number of obese children.

As seen in their recent advertisement, Taco Bell stands proudly behind the quality of its beef, bolding stating to all of America that the claims made against their “seasoned beef” are entirely false. While seemingly transparent, Taco Bell’s advertisement fails to provide its consumers with real data, instead using phrases that play on consumer emotions to effectively calm fears that might cause them to break their loyalty to Taco Bell. Through their vague marketing techniques and by offering their products inside school walls, Taco Bell plays on the ignorance of our youth, continually misleading them about the food they are actually consuming. The child obesity crisis cannot be handled with simple measures; it must be addressed through multiple venues, beginning with the food industry and chains such as Taco Bell.

Works Cited: Amanda Obney v. Taco Bell Corporation. United States District Court Central District of California Southern District. 19 Jan 2011. Print.; Cardello, Hank and Doug Garr. Stuffed; An Insider’s Look at Who’s (Really) Making America Fat. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009. Print.; Jargon, Julie, Emily Steele, and Joann Lublin. “Taco Bell Makes Spicy Retort to Suit”. Wall Street Journal Online. 27 February 2011.; Novak, David and John Boswell. Chapter 14 ‘The First Year’. The Education of an Accidental CEO: Lessons Learned from the Trailer Park to the Corner Office. New York: Random House, Inc, 2007. Print.; Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001. Print.

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