Taco Bell's new app spices up brand advertising

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Taco Bell's stark message to customers.
Taco Bell's stark message to customers.

The fast-food chain's website and social media pages went dark as the order-ahead app was introduced -- a disruptive act to grab the attention of its customer base

Taco Bell sank its teeth into digital marketing Tuesday when it launched a mobile app that lets customers order and pay with smartphones and then walk or drive to the nearest location to pick up their meal.

Tressie Lieberman, senior director of digital marketing and platforms at Taco Bell, told Campaign about the strategy behind the app, created by DigitasLBI. Taco Bell believes the new app will convince customers to shell out extra cash for add-ons like pico de gallo and guacamole, which aren’t always front and center on in-store menus. The app also gives Taco Bell the ability to post and update special offers in real time.

"What we’re seeing is that our app drives exploration of the Taco Bell menu," Lieberman said. "People take a burrito they would normally order and they make it their own.

"It goes from being the Taco Bell burrito to their burrito," she added.

Lieberman explained the app is partly a response to existing customer buying habits.

"Seventy percent of our customers already customize their orders, and the app lets them take that to the next level," she said.

In a move some advertisers might find surprising, Taco Bell’s social-media platforms went dark after the launch. Its website went completely dark on Tuesday, along with its Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram pages. Eventually, a stark message appeared, declaring "The new way to Taco Bell isn't on the Internet. It's #onlyintheapp."

"We wanted our fans and social community to be the first to know about the mobile app, and we wanted to do that in a disruptive way that would really break through," Lieberman said.

The blackout successfully allowed the brand to strengthen its bond with its customers, she told Campaign, and the #oinlyintheapp hashtag reflects those results.

"We’re getting an incredible response," Lieberman said. "It’s hard, because we can’t actually engage with them right now since we are in a blackout, but it’s been a great way to drive engagement with the app."

The app is built around customization, personalization and convenience. Not only can customers build specialized orders, the app also allows customers to save favorites, reorder a specific order multiple times with just a few taps and place an order from anywhere. Lieberman said that besides the functional benefits of the app, being the first fast-food chain to embrace mobile ordering also sets the brand apart.

"Taco Bell likes to take risks," she said. "We like to do things that have never been done before that will really connect with our audience. I think we did this through this campaign and through the app itself."

The launch was a significant step in Taco Bell’s plan to doulbe revenue to $14 billion in the next decade. In addition to its goal to grow from 5,000 stores today to 8,000 stores over the next 10 years, Taco Bell hopes its new order-ahead app will mean more spending per customer in each of those stores.

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