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.