Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G

Taco Hell

There's always a story.  Always.

The Internet has made it easy to toss out throwaway lines, to be the class clown.  Comedians will try to build their followings by subscribing to corporate Twitter accounts and responding to whatever goes out with jokes.  People will see a little something and toss out comments, approval, disapproval, or complete non-sequiters because...well, that's what you do on the Internet.

The problem is obvious -- the Internet creates a sort of solipsism for the individual user.  These are just words and images on a screen, not real people.  In many ways, the Internet is like alcohol, in that it amplifies what behaviors are already there.  However someone behaves, you are seeing the most distilled version of themselves, who they are, what they do, and how they approach things.

This is especially true of corporate accounts.  Market research rules the roost.  Contrary to what the Supreme Court says, corporations are not people.  They behave in a way programmed by charts and graphs.  In their quest to brand themselves onto an audience demographic, to become a conditioned response rather than a thoughtful consideration, corporations will do really strange things.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the convenience food interesting.  There was an ad campaign for Miracle Whip salad dressing showing all sorts of young, hip kids doing young hip things while presenting jars of Miracle Whip triumphantly to the camera.  This gets filed under "Trying Too Hard."  It's salad dressing.  A mayonaise substitute.  And mayonaise is already a prejorative for something bland.  Miracle Whip presenting what is simply a sandwich topping as having some sort of cultural impact made me laugh hysterically when the spot came on TV.

(Miracle Whip still came out better than McDonald's, though, who infamously lauched a campaign to appeal to the Hip Urban Youth with a guy looking at a cheeseburger and saying, "I'd hit it."  It resulted in one of the funniest Boondocks comics, as Huey said with amazing understatement, "I think they're a bit confused," while Ceasar asked the question everyone was wondering, "Can you even do that with a cheeseburger?")

But once in a while, you get a company trying to be hip and fun and they get it majorly wrong, mainly because they are reacting to what happens instead of seeing what is really going on.  In this case, it's Taco Bell.  Taco Bell has long gone for the hip youth market.  They famously offered free tacos if Guns 'N Roses ever released their Chinese Democracy album (the real crime wasn't paying out the free tacos, it's that the album was released at all).  From their prominent featuring of Mountain Dew (a drink that has rebranded itself for the same demographic) to commenting on pop culture in the 18-24 set, Taco Bell is trying to be cool.  It is a successful transition -- they used to be known as a place for cheap eats (and if you've seen the menu lately, you know the "cheap" part is long gone).  Now it's a teenage hangout.  (If you're older than that, that's what Chi-Chi's is for.)

Right now, Taco Bell is pretty well liked around the country.  Except for one little detail.  California's Central Valley.  The epicenter of this whole thing is Fresno.  So what happened there?  Here's what Taco Bell was reacting to -- this is the base of operations for the Fresno Grizzlies, a minor league affiliate for the Houston Astros.  Last Thursday, the team underwent a one-night change.  They became the Fresno Tacos.  They wore new uniforms with new colors, the name was actually changed to the Tacos, and they even sported a logo that was a taco.  From the outside, it was a strange bit of fun to be had, but okay.  Maybe it was something local.  Taco Bell didn't bother to think the "maybe it was something local," because later that night, they tweeted, "Hey @FresnoGrizzlies. Change your name to the #FresnoTacos permanently and we’ll buy tacos for all of Fresno. Deal?"

So what was the problem?  Remember that, "Maybe it was something local," thing?  Turns out, it was.  Thursday night was the fifth annual Taco Truck Throwdown, hosted by the Fresno Grizzlies.  The Central Valley region draws a lot of migrant workers who work hard to feed America's convenience food addiction.  You can make money working in the fields, or you can make money with a taco truck.  As Mike Oz explained recently to Yahoo, "We created Taco Truck Throwdown to shine light on the original food trucks, to take these mobile taquerias that often operate on the outskirts, on dusty roads or in industrial areas, and put them in front of thousands of people, so they can see (and taste) the ultimate mom-and-pop businesses.  Some of them have been doing this for generations, since migrant workers started coming from Mexico to work in our agriculture-rich valley."  The area outside the stadium becomes a taco-centric version of Taste Of Chicago, with people sampling other cooks' tacos and finding out where they can be found.  In other words, it is a celebration of the working man, the do-it-yourselfer, the person with no backing flying by the seat of their pants and trying to make a living in this harsh, cruel world.

And here comes a multi-billion dollar corporation, pushing "the Fourth Meal" and offering free tacos that will wreck the local economy and rebrand a local event from a celebration of civic pride to an advertising platform.  Smoooooooooth.

Unfortunately, the event is too isolated to have people going, "What were you thinking?"  Instead, it's just a bunch of locals who are miffed by their publicity and message being hijacked for a joke to make a corporation seem like everyone's buddy.  I mean, even Marvel left that alone, and Deadpool alone would be talking it up (then again, this is Deadpool, who has repeatedly sided with the little guy against The Man in his comics, so maybe Marvel just knows the character really well).

Corporations?  Please stop acting like you're our friends.  We know we aren't.  You are just trying to make us habitual buyers, not be our friends.  We accept that you want our money.  It's how business works.  Just don't be condescending to us.

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