Barbara Lippert’s Critique

We are marching to Victoria … no, the Ponderosa … sorry, we’re actually making tracks through the parking lot to the local Taco Bell.

Leading the charge is your average beaten-down corporate middle manager: a pale, curly haired guy in happening black glasses, dark suit, white shirt and dark tie, wearing a dangly company ID tag that hits midtorso (always a good look). But shockingly, he gazes directly at us, smiles briefly and sings. He bursts out in a workmanlike voice, a cappella sing-talking to the tune of the old Bonanza TV-show theme.

Little did the wise Ben Cart wright and sons Adam, Hoss and Li’l Joe, all proud men riding high in the saddle in the great open frontier, know that one day they’d be transformed into so many office Dilberts. Make that Dilberts and Sullivans.

Because even though our posse leader is wearing the corporate uniform, he could just as easily be turned out in a pirate or clown costume—he’s not afraid to rhyme and pun and let his earnest heart out as he leads a charge of crazed office workers through the streets. This might be the first walking ditty—or power-walking ditty—ever chanted in advertising. (The Dr Pepper guy, lest we forget, jumped around and sang a jingle.)

The guy sings, “I’m just a man, just a guy and a dude/And I’m hungry/And I’m moving real fast/’cause I’m going first-class/For steak at Taco Bell …” Now, Bonanza ran from 1959 to January 1973, before a great many Taco Bell customers were even born. But, certainly, the theme song is distinctive and immediately recognizable—it’s part of our collective consciousness, along with the visual of the hand-detailed parchment map of the Ponderosa being set ablaze. So we get the subliminal connection of flames, and flame-broiling steak. The music is insistent and throbbing, and it stays in your head. But this is not necessarily a good thing.

There’s something embarrassing about this guy opening up in almost Oprah-like fashion, unabashedly revealing his food fet ishes. In the beginning, it’s almost more than we need to hear, especially when, by the fourth line, he’s telling us he’s “jonesin’ for a grilled-steak taco.”

The jonesin’ guy’s followers literally jog past a run-down, greasy-looking burger joint (how’s that for making the client brief literal?) to arrive at the white, chapel-like Taco Bell. But the man/guy/dude has an aversion to front doors—he bypasses any possible portal and instead body-slams right into the side wall, an enormous glass window, with his corporate pod people slamming right behind him. Meanwhile, the customers at the window booth get their meal interrupted as the guy presses himself to the glass with such force that he makes an audible clunk when he hits.

All I could think was that by following his passions for a steak taco this literally, he’d end up in a full body cast, or at least a nose plaster.

I understand the urgency, how ever. Tricon (the corporate parent), the financially stressed Taco Bell operators and agency Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, which got the account on an “interim basis,” are all under tremendous pressure to produce results. (The account was taken away from TBWA\Chiat\Day, which gave us the very popular “Yo quiero Taco Bell” talking Chihuahua, who now stubbornly refuses to die despite being a deposed brand icon. One of the spots is alive and immortalized in the summer hit movie Legally Blonde.)

Even as more crunchy, chewy, product-based messages hit the airwaves, Taco Bell’s sales were still down 2 percent in the second quarter. Of course, many of the chain’s problems aren’t ad-related. There are soaring cheese costs, for example. And then, of course, someone like myself might worry that a steady diet of Taco Bell might get me looking more like Hoss than Li’l Joe.

So I understand why earlier ads showed a group of Taco stoners rockin’ the Bell to Queen’s “We Will Rock You” … including, “You got cheese on your face, you big disgrace.” That’s the customer.

This “Giddyup” spot really turns up the heat. Except that the ending takes it out of the realm of the western and too far into lemmings or Night of the Living Dead territory. Busting out of the office, si. Following some ob sessed marching man right into a wall, no.