That gong you just heard? You know it as the signature sound of Taco Bell from its commercials, but now it also summons guests to The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort.
The over-the-top experiential marketing experience from agencies Edelman and United Entertainment Group is open for just four days in the desert east of Los Angeles, taking over a boutique setting and remaking it in the brand’s own quirky, sauce- and sass-filled image.
(Technically it all kicked off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony to formally launch The Bell, but the gong was ever-present, creating a Pavlovian response from the few hundred people there Thursday and Friday).
On Thursday, the Irvine-based brand packed The Bell for the first of four nights that the pop-up will be operating in Palm Springs, and Adweek was there for all the festivities. The lineup included food tastings (announced, of course, by gong), synchronized swimmers in hot-sauce suits, a poolside concert by Fletcher, a “freeze” lounge, a slew of Baja Blast variations and more selfies than anyone could possibly count.
First, a few stats: the 70 rooms at The Bell, usually known as the four-star V Palm Springs, sold out in two minutes to fans from 21 states, according to the brand, which hasn’t announced any future plans for lodgings (a la its permanent wedding chapel in Las Vegas). Temperature in Palm Springs: 110 in the shade. No one seemed to mind.
It’s who you know?
Since tickets were tough to come by (and gawkers who tried to crash were turned away at the door), what did it take to be invited to the hotel on its opening night?
Media—Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, Tastemade, local television stations, and yours truly from Adweek—occupied plenty of the space, as did hard-core fans who were extremely quick on the draw when reservations became available.
Then there were mega-influencers like Jeffree Star, a makeup artist who counts at least 40 million social media followers among Twitter, YouTube and other platforms.
But the chain also looks out for its lesser-known loyalists, like the Arizona keeper of an Instagram account called @yoquierotacoballads. On that feed, a genial guy named William Bradford creates songs based on Taco Bell receipts. Go ahead, DM him and see what happens.
Bradford, sitting poolside Thursday night with a just-shaved Taco Bell logo on the side of his head, says he mixes up genres and styles for the witty, one-of-a-kind tunes. Since his account’s debut a year ago, he’s upped his production game, adding effects and backup dancers. (He’s an ad man by day and a musician at night).
“I was really surprised when they invited me,” he says, noting that his social following is modest (a little more than 500 people). “I guess they like what I’m doing.”
Love is in the air…until it isn’t
A whole flock of lovebirds checked into the pop-up. One couple got married at the brand’s Las Vegas chapel last month, so the Palm Springs jaunt was a honeymoon of sorts. Others say they bonded over their genuine love of the chain’s food, serving it at significant events in their lives like wedding receptions.
That was the case for Tarun Sinha and his wife, Priya Punatar, from Washington, D.C., who tied the knot last week. Sinha’s Instagram handle is @tacobellsommelier, where he makes suggestions to his 1,500 followers about which wines to pair with burritos and Crunchwrap Supremes.
As a bit of a contrast, there was the evening’s headliner, Fletcher, an X Factor alum and part of Taco Bell’s longtime support of emerging musicians, Feed the Beat. The singer-songwriter, celebrating her first gold-certified single and sipping tequila, dedicated most of her set to an ex that she was none too pleased with. It wasn’t entirely clear if she was talking about multiple former partners or just one real a-hole in songs like “Undrunk” and “You Should Talk.” But let’s just say things didn’t end well in that (those?) relationship(s). But the performance, with its vocalist citing pop stars like Lorde as inspiration, was a real crowd pleaser.