Where’s the Beef? Bad Timing for Taco Bell Spot

While most ad sales execs will tell you that the A position is the most prime piece of real estate available, a recent slipup on Fox suggests that a poorly timed adjacency can really turn around and bite you in the ass.
On Sunday night, Fox aired a repeat of the first installment of its irreverent animated series, Bob’s Burgers. Titled “Human Flesh,” the episode hinges on a misunderstanding about the beef content of the titular restaurant’s signature hamburger dish. After a rumor spreads linking a neighboring mortuary to the establishment’s beef supply, the proprietor is forced to display a large banner in the front window warning customers that he may be serving corpse meat.
Immediately after the health inspector unfurls the large black-and-yellow sign—it reads “Food May Contain Human Flesh” and features a stylized corpse stuffed between a hamburger bun—Fox threw to commercial. First up in the pod: a 30-second spot for Taco Bell. Oops.
It gets better—or worse, depending on where you happen to stand in the advertising food chain. Designed to address a lawsuit claiming that Taco Bell’s zesty meat filling contains just 35 percent beef, the spot asserts that the brown stuff is in fact 88 percent cow parts.
“Our seasoned beef is 88 percent premium ground beef,” proclaims an actor dressed as a Taco Bell manager, before another actor picks up the thread, adding, “and 12 percent signature recipe.” Viewers are then encouraged to go to TacoBell.com to view the contents of that euphemistic “signature recipe.”

Naturally, while one won’t find any mention of human-derived foodstuffs on the site—the beef seasoning is a fairly unremarkable blend of ingredients such as salt, chili pepper, onion powder, plus the odd coloring agent and flavor enhancer—the juxtaposition between a spot created to dispel loose talk about “mystery meat” and the corpse comedy of Bob’s Burgers was a little hard to stomach.
After the pod concludes, the action picks up as protestors descend on Bob’s demanding that he put an end to his cannibal-enabling ways. One angry consumer is seen holding a hand-lettered sign reading, “Don’t Taste Me, Bro!”
Luckily for all concerned, the snafu was seen by relatively few people. Competing with ABC’s presentation of the 83rd Academy Awards, the Bob’s Burger’s repeat delivered just 3.83 million viewers and notched a 1.8 rating/4 share among adults 18-49.
The “We Stand Behind Our Seasoned Beef!” spots are running across broadcast and cable networks in prime, sports and news.
Taco Bell is owned by Yum! Brands. Last month, during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call, CFO Tim Novak told investors that Taco Bell was experiencing “a negative short-term impact” as a result of the California lawsuit and that business was already returning to prescandal levels. “We believe we turned the tide with our aggressive response and we’ll wait and see the ultimate impact . . . But we’ve done an excellent job setting the record straight, and we’re seriously reviewing our legal options against those who made false claims about our products.”
The restaurant chain closed out the year on a high note, boasting 4 percent same-store sales growth versus Q4 2009.