Taco Bell’s Cool (but weird) World Series Breakfast Promotion


If you’re following baseball, you know the New York Mets are in the world series (yay!) to face the Kansas City Royals, who are returning to the Big Show for the 2nd straight year. The games will air on Fox, who will be selling advertising at the average cost of $450,000 per 30-second spot. A far cry from the $3.5 million that the Super Bowl generates for the same airtime, but remember that the World Series has the potential to stretch out over 7 games. So advertisers are lining up in droves to get their brands in front of sports fans, and also to tie in promotions with the game.

One such marketer is Taco Bell, who is running a promotion called “Steal a Base, Steal a Breakfast.” The promotion parameters are as follows: if a base is stolen during games one or two, anyone can walk into a Taco Bell on Thursday, November 5th between 7:00 am and 11:00 am (in your local time zone) and receive a FREE A.M. Crunchwrap. If no player steals a base during those games, but a base is stolen in games three through seven, then the free offer will stand and be available on Tuesday, November 10th.

This is not the first time Taco Bell has run this promotion – it first ran in 2007, returned in 2008 and then once again in 2012.


What does a Tex-Mex fast food chain, and in particular, their breakfast service, have to do with baseball and stolen bases? According to the press release issued by Taco Bell, Marisa Thalberg, the Chief Brand Engagement Officer, “we are encouraging the whole country to root for a stolen base in the Series – from either team – because the player who steals that first base will have thereby “stolen” a free breakfast, our A.M. Crunchwrap breakfast sandwich, for all of America.”

Okay. From a marketing standpoint, it’s always a good idea to piggyback off the momentum of a highly attended/highly viewed sporting event. No argument there. But why is Taco Bell doing THIS?

Well, for one, it’s a pure exposure/awareness play. They’ll run television ads throughout the world series promoting the promotion (that sounds funny,) and through a lot of reach and frequency, they’ll get viewers excited to watch for a stolen base. [To be clear, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll convince non-baseball-fans to tune in with any significance to “root” for a stolen base.] There will also be social media marketing run around the promotion (the hashtag is #StealABreakfast,) that will likely garner a bump in new fans/followers on their various social feeds.

Of course, this is a sales promotion, so they will likely also see a significant lift in their morning traffic on the day when the promotion runs – and most of that lift will be coming from visitors who are not typical Taco Bell customers. So it’s a sampling/trial play. The thinking is “if we can get a million new people walking in to a Taco Bell this one morning, we might be able to convert some percentage of them into return business.” Good solid marketing thinking.

I like this promotion on principle, but the details of it strike me as, well, weird. The “steal” theme is a bit of a stretch, and doesn’t really align the brand conceptually or contextually with the game for the long run. The “steal” is very much a “one-time” or at least relatively rare phenomenon. (Major League Baseball statistics show that the median number of stolen base ATTEMPTS per game, per team is .70.  That’s not a lot.  (Also note that Taco Bell has not run this promotion year in and year out…it hasn’t run for three years, so as far as the average consumer is concerned, it’s NEW.) I’d much rather align my brand for the long term with a concept that has lasting power, and maybe some appreciable repetition involved that continues to remind consumers of the brand.

As a rule, we don’t associate baseball with breakfast. (It’s an afternoon or evening game, in terms of general perception.) Generally, we don’t associate baseball with “southwestern” or “tex-Mex” food styles. (The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) estimates that more than 30,000,000 hot dogs and sausages will have been sold in baseball stadiums alone this year.) And generally, we associate the word “stealing” with something bad or wrong, (in fairness, unless you contextualize it around the offensive game in baseball.)

So this promotion is offered by a Tex-Mex fast food restaurant that sells tacos and burritos, centered around a game that makes a good living selling tens of millions of hamburgers and hot dogs, is promoting breakfast during what will be all night games, is built around a phenomenon that happens rarely, and is associated with a word that we all perceptually agree is something wrong.  That’s why I find it a bit weird. Oh, and if no bases are stolen during the World Series, then, well, no hay desayuno gratis para usted, mis amigos.

Taco Bell has been on a downward slide in the recent period, (according to MarketWatch, its parent company Yum! Brands’ shares are down 18.6% over the past three months,) so it makes sense to do SOMETHING to draw attention to the brand.

And I think the brand will likely see some good numbers coming out of this promotion. But, based on the transiency, I’m not sure it will have the lasting effect they’re hoping for. The cost/benefit analysis will likely allow the marketing executives to keep their jobs for the next quarter, but then you’ll probably see the next “one-off” event/promotion thingy happening.

If you’re going to call attention to your brand with any kind of promotion, remember to do so in a fashion that bonds consumers to it for more than just a “quick hit” and that makes sense with your brand values and your category positioning. Think about alignments that have perennial value, and you’ll roll up fans and maybe even loyal customers for years to come.

Sampling: a 20th century model perfect for 21st century marketing

Ever try a piece of that mystery meat in the supermarket?  Ever been to a trade show and strapped on some gizmo to “see how this thing really works?”  Ever take a free bottle of thirst-quenching ade at an outdoor event or concert?  Ever taken a test drive at your local auto dealer?  Then you’ve engaged with a sampling program and, perhaps, one of the most underrated routes to marketing success.

Sampling – sometimes called product sampling, or product seeding –  is the simple act of giving products and even services (think massages) away to get prospects to engage with the experience at no cost.  Typically, the results are very positive, as prospects that interact with or try a product at low risk tend to enjoy the interaction and tend to favorably recall the experience.

Sampling jumpstarts many of the most desired marketing outcomes:
–    creates brand and feature awareness
–    is an engaging and memorable experience
–    is real-time, and therefore creates immediacy
–    is a trial-based experience (perhaps the most important facet here)
–    is a strong acquisition tool

Sampling may reach more prospects than you might consider.  According to a 2008 study by Arbitron and Edison Media Research, nearly 70 million consumers aged 12 and older sample a product every quarter. And talk about lift:  about one out of every three consumers who try a sample buy the sampled product during the same shopping trip.  Further, sampling can impact future buying decisions, as the known experience creates a bond to the brand: six out of 10 consumers who sample products plan to buy these products again. That’s a pretty convincing ROI.

Now, no one here is saying that sampling is so monumental an option that you should abandon your other tactics and shift all your dollars into a seeding program.  However, there are aspects of sampling that simply outgain many of the more known marketing approaches.  For instance, advertising, long accepted as the heavyweight champion of marketing communication, can, at best, only serve to stimulate demand for a product.  Sampling, on the other hand, induces trial.  It’s simply a matter of scale: if advertising didn’t have the benefit of riding along the broadcast channels, it would lose to sampling as a model of efficiency.

Does sampling have any drawbacks?  A few minor shortcomings are evident.  Sampling is hyper-local, and with that comes a scaling challenge. [You can get around this by including a product sample in your next physical mailing program…scaling problem overcome, but watch out for postage fees.] Also, sampling creates a minor headache if you’re bent on attribution.  It’s easy to see same day sales lift, but long-term brand building and incremental sales gains are hard to attribute unless you’re isolating markets or specific product varieties.

Finally, sampling does have a few parameters that must be considered…it’s hard to sample large or expensive products outside of the confines of the test-drive model.  You do have to eat the manufacturing costs of the products you’re giving away as you hedge your bets against future sales.  But regardless of these minor drawbacks, you can gain advantages in your market through sampling.  And if you do it with an intelligently conceived, creatively executed program, promoted through social media and even mobile alerts, chances are you’ll be enjoying those advantages with newly acquired customers for years to come.