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Taco Bell stays quiet on 4/20 (so far), and McDonald’s slyly begins its all-day breakfast test.

In San Diego today, McDonald’s is starting to test its breakfast all day long. It’s certainly totally a coincidence that this is Annual Cannabis Wink Wink Celebration Day.

Meanwhile, the Taco Bell Twitter feed is quiet today, so far:

We were all expecting a cannabis joke. How restrained and disciplined of you to withhold it, Taco Bell. Keep on zagging, TB.

We were all expecting a cannabis joke. How restrained and disciplined of you to withhold it, Taco Bell. Keep on zagging, TB.

Which is significant because in 2012 Taco Bell “won” (in internetspeak) the 4/20 Twitter Jokes By Appropriate Brands war, pre-emptively. It’s a prime example of how responsive, brand-confident, quick-witted, and plain funny Taco Bell was daring to be on social media—showing all the other brands, basically, how it was done:

They were quick, they were interactive, they were self-aware, they were playing with their brand reputation in a slightly naughty way: the internet LOVES this kind of stuff. Or did in 2012.

They were quick, they were interactive, they were self-aware, they were playing with their brand reputation in a slightly naughty way: the internet LOVES this kind of stuff. Or did in 2012.

Knowing how people are going to interpret your signals, and playing with those expectations, is how brands win real-time on social media. They create relationships, and a sense of belonging to a community. From the book:

[relationships] are the difference between being part of your community, and just taking money from the community. You can aspire to be the best thing about your community.

Not just another corporate shill, but a clever, helpful presence, tuned into the wavelength of the customers.” — Selling Eating, Chapter 18

And so, I must say, once again, as they struggle with a Millennial Disinterest Issue, McDonald’s is a few years late to the funny-weed-joke party.

Although I do enjoy the subtlety. McD had to start the breakfast on some date or another. It’s funny. It’s just not A-student, over-achieving, trailblazingly first. Typical of stoner culture in a way, I guess.


An April Fools idea that goes beyond goofy.

The whole point of a brand playing an April Fools prank, beyond just looking vaguely “light-hearted” and “game,” should be to find a way to say something about the brand that people halfway might believe because it seems like something that fits. Really cement what they’re about.

I think Dominos UK managed to do that here.

Delivery-centric. Experimenting with ways to serve customers. Riffing on Amazon drones. Light-hearted but not merely goofy. Sure.

Dominos you can't fool us we know what date it is. In April.

Taco Bell explains why 2015 won’t be like 1984.

McDonald’s is Big Brother to people in fast food. Got it.

Chipotle got people to watch long-form ads about their cause. Got it.

Taco Bell has been tearing it up in social media and content creation the last few years. Yes.

My only thing about this…

…is that it doesn’t quite have the same spirit as the other Taco Bell social media greatest hits. Ignoring its resemblance to the famous Apple 1984 ad, and the fact that the cause is a lot more “advertising strategy-ish” than Chipotle’s Back-to-the-Farm-Basics longform ads, this ad just isn’t very fun. Is it? Even though I enjoy Soviet propaganda and Joker-ish clown makeup and the poke of a sort-of-big-guy at a bigger guy (a little), I feel the oppressive atmosphere is very effective. Because it’s oppressive. Will people really watch the whole thing?

To me, this is an example of different visions for a single entity: you can detect different creative sensibilities between this, the army of Ronalds, the Locos Tacos ethos, and so on. And a different sensibility from their best tweets.

It’s hard to be consistent across every medium. But it’s kind of a big deal. People only know what they see, and if what they see (as discussed in Selling Eating “Chapter 7: Brand Personality: A Consistent Voice Is A Sneaky Advantage”) varies from one touchpoint to another, they start to wonder if they ever really knew the brand at all.

Today, Gloria the Random Chicken Decider hopefully reinforces Burger King’s brand (rather than randomly pecking away at it).

A Chicken named Gloria is a Burger Exec now

A few hours from now, a random chicken named Gloria will randomly decide if a particular New York Burger King location will serve Chicken Fries.

I like this direction for Burger King.

They’ve been suffering a long time with this dysfunctional half-hip/half-drip personality disorder, where they bring back Subservient Chicken from the truly edgy Days of The King and then they air anodyne commercials that are so bland and pandering they’re offensive.

This strikes a nice balance, and gives fans of the fries something to talk about that’s actually charming and interesting.

It’s less self-serving than their previous attempts at this kind of thing (I’m thinking of the “Fries King” signage that was interesting mostly only to themselves). But people dig silly stuff—basing “important corporate decisions” on a chicken’s whims plays to a solid, young-ish demographic.

If they could stick with this personality awhile, people might feel like they understand the brand.

As I said in Selling Eating (Chapter 7, if you’re following along) consistency of personality, in some ways, is all you really have:

…in some ways, a consistent brand voice (as I said earlier) is all you have—you can change the menu, change the interior, redo the logo, move to new locations, and hire a different spokesman when yours dies. If you retain your personality and brand voice through it all, your customers will remain loyal. Starbucks goes through at least a half-dozen store themes a year, some seasonal and some promotional—but they have a consistent voice, and through it all you sense the same personality.

So you can have an ongoing relationship with that personality.

Just know: every time you speak in a voice different from the one you used last time your customers encountered you, you’re starting that relationship from zero.”

Why can’t McDonald’s get Millennials right? (From the book: Actions Speak Louder Than Brand Pronouncements.)

Ronald McDonald Playing Guitar and the Guitar is French FriesThey can do whatever they want at South by Southwest this year. All anyone will remember is that they asked a band to play for free.

They can put kale on the menu.

They can run this really charming ad all they want…

…and we will enjoy it, but all it really does is say, “Remember how big we are—we can pay to license every single character you’ve ever had an emotional investment in. Don’t mess with us. We’re big.”

They can try spreading love at the Super Bowl. They can try being honest.

But when they mess up like they did at South by Southwest (and then snarkily suggest via hashtag that it’s a #slownewsday), or get caught recommending a second job as financial advice to employees, then just look like they’re pandering (like with this hipster McD experiment), Millennials get what’s up.

And in the end, McDonald’s unloving actions end up speaking louder than its approved-for-broadcast words.

As I point out in Selling Eating, people form their opinion of your restaurant based on all the evidence you provide, everything, whether you want them to or not. Especially now, with social media and conscience-minded Millennials, you can’t dictate which parts of your message people pay attention to.

The struggle continues.