Ad of the Day: Taco Bell Launches Cold War Against McDonald’s With Propaganda Imagery

That despotic clown

Egg McMuffins aren't just mediocre pastries stuffed with microwaved eggs, bright yellow cheese and ham product. They are a form of tyranny.

That, at least, is the upshot of "Routine Republic," a riveting and surreal new Taco Bell campaign from Deutsch. A year after the agency cheekily hired a bunch of guys named Ronald McDonald to celebrate the Mexican-themed fast-food chain's first foray into breakfast, the shots at the Golden Arches are barely masked.

In the three-minute centerpiece ad below, McDonald's affable but intrinsically creepy mascot is reimagined as a sunken-eyed Stalinist clown (though perhaps bearing closer resemblance to Mao). He rules over a small army of look-alikes and an oppressed proletariat in a decrepit, cloistered city with a beefy security apparatus. Run-of-the-mill breakfast sandwiches are his preferred method of subjugation.

Taco Bell, meanwhile—aided by "Blitzkrieg Bop," the universal theme song of teenage rebels in the late '70s (so perhaps an appropriate foil for a geopolitically themed bogeyman and/or Bond villain of roughly the same generation)—is the champion of non-conformists, who simply want hexagonal, instead of circular, breakfast foods. The spot even delivers the added gut punch of twisting McD's promise of happiness (on which the burger chain's advertising loves to harp) into a nefarious lie—a drab, gray, industrial (read: overprocessed) landscape (because those A.M. Crunch Wraps are surely only made with the freshest of organic, local ingredients).

That's all to say, it depicts a dystopian world, but the whole concept also can't help but come across as some kind of meta wormhole, like a microcosm of capitalism trying to devour itself. A smaller fast-food giant is knocking a bigger goliath for creating a fantastical totalitarian communist state, wherein the greatest strain on individual freedom is uninspired food, and the most dire physical threat to would-be defectors is whatever horror befalls a person who gets hit by a confetti bomb, or jumps into a grimy ball pit. (Though, in fairness, it's always been hard not to wonder what's lurking in the bottoms of those things—they're too colorful to trust.)

In fact, the campaign's biggest problem may be that it's too well done. The visuals nicely mimic the state-sanctioned artwork of the communist era—e.g., majestic sunburst portraits, imposing statues—and morph it into a series of creative, dog-whistle attacks. In addition to the epic narrative ad, which will air as a :60 on the season finale of The Walking Dead this Sunday, there's a mock-propaganda video (which might remind some gamers of BioShock) and a series of posters espousing the principles of the breakfast dictatorship.

Overall, it's probably not quite as ham-fisted as Nikki Minaj heroizing herself using Nazi imagery in a pop music video—but the frivolous McDespot comparison is also perhaps a touch insensitive, given, you know, the mass killings and other atrocities that marked the Stalinist and Maoist regimes.

Potential political indecencies aside, though, it does make for pretty light, entertaining fare. In the marketplace, Taco Bell is the underdog (whatever happened to the chihuahua anyways?), and from a corporate perspective, needs to be scrappy and get noticed. This certainly does that, punching above its weight, and coming out with a happy ending. The two heroes (a brooding guy and a hot girl, duh) crawl out of their culinary prison a through Shawshank-Redemption-style hole in the wall (presumably burned through with some fire sauce, or chiseled out with a spork) and lead the masses to the promised land of six-sided sandwiches.

Ultimately, though, nobody can claim to be a true Taco Bell breakfast revolutionary until they've eaten every single item on the menu in one sitting.

See some of the print work here:


Client: Taco Bell

Ad: "Routine Republic"

Chief Marketing Officer: Chris Brandt

VP, Brand Creative Director: Tracee Larocca

Director of Advertising: Aron North

Manager, Brand Experience: Ashley Prollamante

Food Consultant: Carolyn Avelino

Agency: Deutsch

Chief Creative Officer: Pete Favat

Chief Digital Officer: Winston Binch

Executive Creative Director: Brett Craig

Group Creative Director: Tom Pettus

Creative Director: Scott Clark

Creative Director: Pat Almaguer

Senior Art Director: Jeremiah Wassom

Senior Copywriter: Chris Pouy

Director of Integrated Production: Vic Palumbo

Executive Producer: Paul Roy

Producer: Damon Vinyard

Music Director: Dave Rocco

Associate Music Producer: Eryk Rich

Design Director: Nathan Iverson

Senior Designer: Erin Burrell

Group Account Director: Walter Smith

Account Director: Katie Klages

Account Supervisor: Krista Slocum

Account Executive: Kaitlin Tabar

Chief Strategy Officer: Colin Drummond

Group Planning Director: Jill Burgeson

Group Planning Director: Lindsey Allison

Senior Account Planner: Kelly Mertesdorf

Director of Integrated Business Affairs: Abilino Guillermo

Senior Business Affairs Manager: Ken Rongey

Associate Business Traffic Manager: Missy Stella

Senior Broadcast Traffic Manager: Sarah Freeark

CEO, North America: Mike Sheldon

President, Los Angeles: Kim Getty

Live Action Production Company: Arts & Sciences

Director: Michael Spiccia

Director of Photography: Germain McMicking

Managing Director / Partner: Mal Ward

Executive Producer / Managing Partner: Marc Marrie

Head of Production: Christa Skotland

EP / Producer: Ben Scandrett-Smith

Editorial Company: Union Editorial

Editor: Jim Haygood

Assistant Editor: Anil Baral

President/Managing Partner: Michael Raimondi

Executive Producer: Rob McCool

VFX: A52

VFX Supervisor/Lead Flame Artist: Andy McKenna

Flame artists: Pat Murphy, Hugh Seville, Steven Wolff, Jesse Monsour, Andres Barrios, Chris Moore, Michael Plescia, Richard Hirst, Michael Vagliently, Enid Dalcoff, Christel Hazard, Dan Ellis

Head of 3D: Kirk Shinatni

CG Supervisor: John Cherniack

CG Artists:  Ian Ruhfass, Joe Paniagua, Jose Limon, Josephine Kahng, Vivian Su, Wendy Klien, Chris Janney

CG Tracking: Joseph Chiechi, Michael Bettinardi, Michael Cardenas

Roto: Tiffany Germann

Art Director: Earl Burnley

Animation: Jeffrey Jeong, Lucy Kim, Tae-Kyu Kim, Trix Taylor, Alan Chen

Head of Production: Kim Christensen

Executive Producer: Jennifer Sofio Hall

Executive Producer: Patrick Nugent

Producer: Stacy Kessler-Aungst

Motion Graphics: Steelhead

Executive Producer: Ted Markovic

Motion Design Director: Jason Porter

Motion Designer: Luis de Leon

Producer: Matt Johnson

Mixer: Chase Butters

Color: A52

Colorist: Paul Yacono

Producer: Anna Vegezzi

Illustrator, Routine Rules Poster: Paul Rogers

Agent: Sally Heflin @ Heflin Reps

Illustrator, all other posters:

Erin Burrell: Senior Designer

Licensed/Composed Music, Credits and Track Info:

Elias Music

Music composed by Elias Arts

Executive Creative Director: Vincenzo LoRusso

Creative Director: Mike Goldstein

Executive Producer: Vicki Ordeshook

Head of Production: Katie Overcash

The Ramones "Blitzkrieg Bop"

Audio Post Company: Formosa Santa Monica

Mixer: Tim West

Mix Assistant: Aiden Ramos

Producer: Jennifer Bowman

Shoot Location: Budapest, Hungary

@GabrielBeltrone Gabriel Beltrone is a frequent contributor to Adweek.