Taco Bell’s Social Media Blackout

Conventional wisdom suggests the best way to get people to notice a new product and adopt it is through giving them lots of new information and interacting frequently. The marketing gurus over at Taco Bell through this wisdom to the wind and decided to think outside the bun. Back in October of 2014, Taco Bell created a risky and counterintuitive  launch plan for its newest app. The app was designed around mobile ordering and payment. The increased ability to handle mobile traffic is something that Taco Bell believes will greatly enhance order efficiency and develop their drive-thru business, which accounts for the majority of their sales. The move to this technology more than likely comes off the success of other mobile ordering platforms such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet which has take large strides this past year. Because of this, Taco Bell knew it has to take an aggressive approach to launching its app and getting its large customer base on board.

In order to gain maximum traction for their new app Taco Bell decided to black out their social media channel, rather than flood them. Taco Bell’s social media presence is one of the strongest in the fast food industry with their Facebook garnering over 10 million likes alone. Rather than traditional media approaches, Taco Bell decided to use this significant social media following to spread the word and create a viral conversation about their app. On October 28th, 2014 Taco Bell shut down their Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Facebook pages and replaced it with messages that explained that Taco Bell is no longer on those sites but #OnlyInTheApp.

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These posts provided only a link to download the new app and the suggestion of sharing their hashtag. Within an hour the hashtag had been spread over 400 times and at the end of the day the hashtag was used more than 5,000 times and Taco Bell was tweeted t more than 27,000 times, for a potential reach of 5.9 million. Not only did this simplistic and direct marketing approach lead to recognition, but it also lead to action. A lot of action. The app rose from a rank of 1,379th overall in the US at 2am Pacific time to the 24th most popular app by 1pm Pacific Time. A total time of only 11 hours. This push forced Taco Bell’s app above Google Maps, Spotify, and Twitter.

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The success of Taco Bell’s app launch comes primarily from platform integration and pushing the brand across all fronts rather than just on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. The consistency and messaging across all social media sites created great momentum for the campaign and integrated audiences and participation. There can also be a great deal said about how Taco Bell interacted with their platforms and technology. Instead of actually deleting all its history and followers, Taco Bell went outside of the box and set their accounts to private while creating duplicate accounts that showed the blank messages. This allowed Taco Bell to come back online the next day with all of its network and audience intact, while allowing them to obtain the shock value they were searching for in this campaign.

This shock value leads me to what I believe is the main takeaway from this situation, and that is the creativity in simplicity. The campaign didn’t ask users to take any crazy or complicated action, which can sometimes feel like brands are abusing their dedicated consumer base, but instead got them curious about what was going on. They created a canvassed tagline and message that was easy to share and focused solely on one goal, app adoption. Taco Bell was no longer on its social media and digital platforms: it was only on the app. This individual goal tied nicely to the new marketing mantra of pushing limits and challenging customers to try new products and new ways of interacting with the brand. All of this surely would not be possible without Taco Bell extensively understanding how their consumers interact on social media and how they interact with the brand.

8 comments

  1. Really interesting post! I personally have never had Taco Bell, but know that the company has a strong presence on social media. 10 million likes on their Facebook page is astounding! I love their approach to launching their app- and I definitely agree with you that simplicity was the way to go. If you can get your consumers curious about your product, they’ll enjoy finding it/using it that much more rather than if your marketing team bombards them with constant information. I wonder if your research showed you how the app is doing post-introduction. Are they still maintaining a large user base? Has it indeed helped their drive-through processes?

  2. Nice post. I’m not personally a fan of Taco Bell’s food offering, but this is clearly a great case of a company integrating its social media presence to drive a specific objective. I’d be interested to know how much customers actually used the app after downloading it, and whether Taco Bell had a strategy for that.

  3. Great post! Taco Bell definitely exemplified the slogan “Live Mas” adopting this high-risk advertisement. This incredibly simple, but powerful campaign is a great change of pace from the recent trends of social media. I wonder if other brands will attempt to recreate this ‘blackout’ tactic to draw attention towards a particular platform, and how their success would compare to Taco Bell.

  4. I really enjoyed this post because I had no idea Taco Bell had such a strong social media presence and was unaware of the #onlyintheapp campaign. This was such an interesting campaign to learn about and I’m wondering if it could be successful for other companies as well. It seems that getting people to adopt the app required Taco Bell to have a very loyal customer base that trusted what was happening. I could see this ending in a completely different direction with customers becoming extremely mad that they had blacked out their social media channels. Its impressive that they were able to do this so successfully!

  5. Great post! I find it almost shocking that Taco Bell did this, especially since they had such a strong social media presence. While it seems innovative and new age, this App does not seem like it was fully thought through (or at least the effects of it). I think this will undoubtably cut down the number of customers that follow their social media presence #onlyintheapp. People follow Twitter and Facebook accounts because they are simple to see quickly while you are looking at other people and companies on the apps. Shutting down their social media apps to promote this is going to only detract people from following them. Fast food, at its core, is about convenience. It is not convenient to download a whole new app for a fast food chain you probably do not visit weekly, even. It will definitely be interesting to see how this plays out!

  6. I really like this post. I had no idea that Taco Bell had such a strong presence on social media and I was unaware of their Only In the App campaign. Although risky, I thought the campaign was pretty genius and was clearly successful for Taco Bell. Like shawnmcniff said, I think it’s also important for Taco Bell to continue to have a presence on other social media sites to post information about their company for people to see while scrolling through their feeds. I’m interested to see how this campaign does in the long run for Taco Bell’s business.

  7. I actually love this example, and think there’s all sort of interesting metaphors implicit in it (i.e. companies moving beyond social toward more digital integration). I almost used it as the intro for this years digital report for MIT-SMR but selected another example instead.

  8. I completely missed this “blackout” but I love when companies make moves like these instead of just posting about new products/apps. This was particularly effective because it cornered consumers into downloading the app. I’m frequently a slow-mover to new apps especially when companies have well established websites and SM accounts I don’t feel the immediate need to waste space on my phone. I wonder how long TacoBell waited to de-blackout all their accounts because after making such a huge fuss about going dark it must have been pretty awkward for them to be like “just kidding”.

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