Fill Up for Less
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
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Fill Up for Less

With AAA estimating 33.4 million Americans were due to hit the road during the Fourth of July weekend, consumers¡¯ concern over gas prices were never so great. At the same time, Taco Bell was in the midst of planning to launch a new menu at the beginning of July.

Paul Holmes

In June 2004, gas prices were at an all-time high. Consumers were flooded with the news of rising gasoline costs on a daily basis. Plus, with AAA estimating 33.4 million Americans were due to hit the road during the Fourth of July weekend, consumers¡¯ concern over gas prices were never so great. At the same time, Taco Bell was in the midst of planning to launch a new menu at the beginning of July.

The mainstream media is often hesitant to cover food item introductions, Taco Bell and Cohn & Wolfe (CW) were challenged to find ways to generate buzz for the new menu while utilizing relevant, existing news. In addition, Taco Bell wanted to find ways to tie the publicity campaign to the existing advertising efforts¡ªtelevision commercials that showcased individuals loudly proclaiming, ¡°I¡¯m full!¡±

As part of this program, Taco Bell and CW participated in weekly ¡°Buzz¡± conference calls, in which participants discussed ¡°strike now¡± news and ways to effectively tie it back to the Taco Bell brand image and product launch. During these calls, the topic of gas prices was consistent and seemed like a perfect fit for the Big Bell Value Menu launch. In addition, CW researched the existing gas prices and discovered that crude oil prices had hit a 13-year high. With the launch of the new menu scheduled to happen on July 1, CW also researched trends surrounding travel and the Fourth of July holiday. The team discovered that AAA was estimating 33.4 million Americans would be driving on the road during the holiday weekend.

Following are a list of activities for the implementation of this event; determined to hold the gas giveaways on the day of the menu¡¯s launch, the giveaway would be held between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Thursday, July 1, in nine markets (Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix and San Francisco), contacted individual gas stations in select markets to partner with for gas giveaway, researched staffing agencies to identify individuals who could serve as gas attendants, worked with Taco Bell to develop signage for each market as well as special ¡°uniforms¡± for the staff.

A special spinning wheel was also developed for each market. The wheel contained images of the new menu items as well as their individual costs. Depending on what each customer spun, they would be charged anywhere between 99 cents and $1.29 for a full tank of gas.

The PR team:
¡Æ Utilized existing media buys with radio stations to conduct radio remotes at each gas station. Radio personalities were provided talking points for the giveaway, ensuring that the appropriate messaging was delivered each time.
¡Æ Developed national and localized press releases announcing the giveaway. Local media alerts were also created to distribute to each broadcast station. Media materials were also translated into Spanish for those cities with a considerable Spanish-speaking population. Drafted event guides for individual staff members as well as Taco Bell employees, outlining roles and responsibilities as well as key messages to communicate during the event.
¡Æ Created b-roll for broadcast stations unable to attend gas giveaway and worked with AP stringer to take photos of Los Angeles-based event. The stringer then successfully placed the photo on the wire. Conducted aggressive media outreach both nationally and regionally. Targets included wires, broadcast stations, community weeklies, top-tier dailies and Hispanic outlets.

By the end of the day on Thursday, July 1, Taco Bell had distributed approximately 18,000 gallons of gasoline nationwide. In addition, more than 1,200 coupons featuring Big Bell Value Menu items were distributed to customers nationwide. Nearby Taco Bell locations reported an increase in traffic in their stores and successful sales of the Big Bell Value Menu items.

Media attention was tremendous with more than 70 local broadcast hits and national placements on both AP TV and Hispanic programming. Print coverage was widespread with hits in BrandWeek, Los Angeles Times, Oakland Tribune, Miami Herald and Chicago Tribune Redeye Edition, among others.

Gross media impressions totaled more than 119 million with an advertising equivalency of approximately $285,000.00. With an overall budget of $50,000 including fee and OOP, these results delivered a return-on-investment of nearly 6:1 Heralded as one of the biggest news stories of 2004, the Taco Bell team effectively leveraged soaring gas prices for the Big Bell Value Menu launch and gave consumers not one¡ªbut two¡ªreasons to exclaim, ¡°I¡¯m full!¡±

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