Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Taco Hell, Part Two -- Happy Birthday David.

(The second in a four part series detailing my 2001 descent into Taco Hell)

How do you follow up the Taco Bell chihuahua campaign?
How do you produce work that will produce immediate sales?
And how do you save an account in order to save your own ass and avoid the prospect of your children going to the DeVry Institute to study Cashiering?

These were the questions that kept me up night and day. And while vacationing in Kauai, I thought had the answer.

I called my partner, John Shirley, stateside and we started brainstorming an ambitious campaign that would take place in a small, fictional Mexican village in northern Sonora. Where, after a violent thunderstorm, a lightening bolt had hit a tree and left a haunting image emblazoned across its trunk.

Not of the Virgin Mary (as seen above), but of a Crunchy Chalupa.

John picked up on the vibe immediately and started working on comps. We always had a shorthand rhythm like that, where the ideas would come fast and furious.  We started envisioning pilgrimages to the tiny town. Villagers creating meat, beans and cheese shrines to the Holy Site. And interviews with the faithful who believed the Chalupa Tree had special healing powers.

Mostly, it cured a stoner's appetite for just $1.29.

But the premise gave us a platform to talk about the food, show the obligatory cheese pulls and poke fun at those who see apparitions, religious, comestible, or otherwise.

My boss, Lee Clow, saw the next evolution of the Taco Bell campaign going in a slightly different direction.

And while I still bemoan the death of the Chalupa Tree concept, you gotta give it up to Lee for his brilliant strategic vision.

His idea was to assemble 5 guys, put them in a van and send them on a road trip where they would make frequent stops at Taco Bells. They even brought the chihuahua, who would play a very small part in each spot, so as not to alienate the millions who still loved Gidget.

You might even remember this campaign.
I'm hoping you don't.

One spot featured the guys inside a Taco Bell while David, overcome with cheap fast food exuberance, started doing a white man rap.

My name is David,
My friends call me "G".
One hungry young dawg I be.
I'm cool like a penguin,
slick like a tuxedo,
so hook me up with gooey Encharito.

Chorus: Go David, it's your birthday, Go David it's your birthday.

Oh yeah!!!

I had to sit in an Orange County conference room and watch that get presented to a bunch of toe-tapping, gang-sign throwing, lily-white Promise Keepers.

BTW, I never approved the spot, but I bit my tongue and shut up. Because, as I had mentioned yesterday, with so many folks in upper management dropping massive turds in my career punchbowl, my employment status at the time was tenuous at best.

So where was the brilliance in Lee's plan?

In addition to shooting the heavily-scripted, watered down, executive approved spots, we handed each of our road trippers a Sony Handicam -- this was before iPhones. And we told them that during the course of the 17 day shoot, they could capture everything and anything they wanted on video.

From these hours and hours of raw, unscripted footage we would edit and piece together a campaign unlike anything on the air. With graphics and a voice-over narrative we could shape the stories, write the jokes, and deliver a breakthrough alternative that would blow the $55 cashmere blend-ribbed Paul Smith designed socks off the client.

Well, that was the plan.

We, including Lee Clow on occasion, spent months in the edit bay and actually presented more than a dozen of these free, improvised, off the cuff spots. And at the risk of sounding immodest some of them were very good.

Of course, despite the sage counsel, the client didn't air any of them. Why, after all, would they listen to marketing advice from the man who teamed up with Steve Jobs to make Apple the 5th richest company on the planet?

Their reasoning was beyond reproach. And it all had to do with the sacred process.

None of the spots had been vetted, committee'd and subjected to focus groups and therefore hadn't earned the Taco Bell Clusterfuck Seal of Approval.

Coming Up Tomorrow: "This hotel room smells like old people!"

1 comment:

Cecil B. DeMille said...

The time of the focus group has come and gone. It's time to tell clients to take it or fucking leave it. Nothing good is ever created by committee. Look at the government, for fuck's sake. All committee. No production.

Not sure about the Chalupa Tree, but it would have been much better than five idiots on a road trip eating Taco Bell. What a shit show.