Taco Bell is shifting its ad spend from digital to TV

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At 4A's Transformation, CMO Marisa Thalberg said the brand has to "figure out how to use digital more effectively."

Taco Bell will spend less on digital advertising in 2017 than it did last year, according to CMO Marisa Thalberg. Instead, the fast food chain plans to spend more on TV ads than it did in 2016. 

The brand is using the shift as an opportunity to "figure out how to use digital a little bit more effectively to really get that business result," Thalberg told Campaign US editor-in-chief Douglas Quenqua during a panel at the 4A’s Transformation conference in Los Angeles on Monday.

While "I do love and believe in digital," she said, "we went down some garden paths with it last year." Taco Bell is less sure than it wants to be that its digital efforts are reaching its target audiences.

The shift may be a boon for "old media," like TV and radio. "TV’s important to us. TV still works for us," Thalberg said. "Radio actually still works for us, believe it or not."

Her comments stood in contrast to those made by her fellow panelists. Beats by Dre plans to spend less on TV ads, said Jason White, EVP, head of marketing. The headphone and speaker brand will "spend much more in content proliferation," he added. 

And STX Entertainment, a film and television studio, will spend less on radio ads and invest more heavily in programmatic ads, according to Amy Elkins, head of media and marketing innovation.

The marketers also addressed an issue that makes some agencies nervous—the trend of bringing creative services in-house. Taco Bell’s social media has always been handled primarily in-house, but the chain recently moved restaurant marketing to an internal design studio responsible for assets like store merchandising, packaging and artwork in the restaurants.

For its part, STX Entertainment has brought social insights and data analytics under its own roof. "We can’t afford the time lapse" that occurs when dealing with an external partner, Elkins said.

White pointed to one issue agencies could improve if they want to stem the flow: diversity. "When you start to look at culture and you see agencies not reflecting that, then you don’t get some of the points of view you wish you were getting," he said. "You have to get those in-house or from small little factions, parts of your ecosystem."