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Building a cult brand and redesigning Taco Bell

October 31 2016

Sara Frey

In this episode of Branding Bites, our strategy director, Kacha Azema, and our design director, Shawn McConnell, got together to talk about what’s happening in restaurant marketing this week.


Tune in for their responses to questions including:

  • How successful were Frontier Lager’s recent #findflavour Instagram ads? (at 0:13)
  • How can a restaurant achieve cult status with millennials? (at 1:28)
  • Should restaurants market through online deal sites? (at 3:30)
  • Which Taco Bell redesign hits the mark? (at 4:05)
  • Why does Taco Bell’s costume contest work? (at 4:56)

Rather read than watch? We’ve got you covered.

// Transcript

Kacha: Good morning, everybody! This is Branding Bites. I am Kacha, the strategy director here at Skidmore Studio.

Shawn: Hi, I’m Shawn, design director at Skidmore. We’ve got a lot of tasty stuff so, let’s go ahead and get started. Kacha-

Kacha: Yes.

Shawn: A few questions for you.

Kacha: Okay.

Shawn: Frontier Lager released a series of posters aimed at millennials. You take a photo of these posters with Instagram, you apply a certain filter, and a beer profile is revealed.

Kacha: Magically appears.

Shawn: What do you think of this concept?

Kacha: Great idea!

Shawn: Okay.

Kacha: Lousy execution.

Shawn: Right.

Kacha: Love the idea that we’re engaging consumers, giving them a fun game or something interesting to get involved in. That’s fun, right?

Shawn: Yes, absolutely.

Kacha: Then the payoff is, like, “Wait, it’s the outline of a pint or …what? And I have to hunt and peck through these Instagram filters and, what did I really get out of that?”

Shawn: It’s not a great experience, as a user. Tell you, my biggest problem with it was looking at the Instagram hashtag with all these photos on it. It was a pea green soup. Kind of flat, all same images with faint outlines of beer. Wasn’t a great experience for the brand. Wasn’t a great take away for the brand. I didn’t feel like Frontier gained a lot of brand awareness from it.

Kacha: Ultimately, I think that I would tell a brand, “Give the consumer a more rewarding experience and do something that builds your brand at the same time.”

Shawn: Without a doubt.

Kacha: All right, cool. Question for you: How do you achieve, as a restaurant, cult status among millennials?

Shawn: It can be tricky but it can be done. There’s a few great examples out there. I think Whataburger in Texas does a great job with their branding. Consistency. Orange and white stripes are everywhere and they’re on everything. I see it on Instagram. Every little slice shows orange and white strips. You know exactly where you’re at. It’s a little bit like what Snapchat does with geo-filters, they’re doing in real life. You can’t take a photo in there and not show, somehow, that you’re in Whataburger.

Kacha: So, they really own that whole thing, right?

Shawn: Another one would be Shake Shack with their black and green colors and hyper-localization. They’re coming to Detroit next year. They’ve got the spirit of Detroit in the Shake Shack style – the black, the green. People are pumped. It’s got a lot of excitement just in that consistency. The Spirit of Detroit shows up in that illustration style with a little bit of script and people know right away who it is, what it’s for, and they’re pumped. They’re so excited.

Kacha: I also want to mention Topper’s Pizza here because they’ve really gone all in on their “against the corporate pizza giant” theme. Their slogan is, “Never settle for pizza made by the man.”

Shawn: Love it!

Kacha: So, they said, “We are not corporate pizza, we are fresh toppings, made for you, by your friends and neighbors”. That is authentic, an attractive, cult-driving millennial-focused message. Really cool.

Shawn: I think to summarize, it’s branding, both in tone, voice, and visuals. Make sure you’re consistent and have strong personality in all three and you’re well on your way to cult status.

Kacha: Love it!

Shawn: Let’s try our next feature: Bittie Bites. First one: Marketing through online deal sites such as Groupon.

Kacha: I don’t like it. I feel like it diminishes the value of a good restaurant.

Shawn: I’m not going to give this a solid maybe. I’m going to solidly agree, devalues the brand.

Kacha: Great.

Shawn: Not a fan. Next: Text message marketing?

Kacha: Text message marketing I do like, because I think most people – millennials especially – are on our phone all the time, boom, the message came up. Okay, cool, I’d love to go check you out.

Shawn: I tell you what, it’s helpful that first time you get it, but from then on out it’s just annoying … thumbs down.

Kacha: Good point.

Shawn: Next: We’ve got some images. Taco Bell, California, redesign. Let’s start with this one. Redesigned interior. We’ve got some candelabras. We’ve got some reclaimed wood, maybe? Some pattern.

Kacha: I like it!

Shawn: Exposed beams.

Kacha: Thumbs up!

Shawn: Yeah, I think it works. Take a look at this one. Not as sure. I give this one a solid A, thumbs up. I love the redesign.

Kacha: Yeah, I like that one.

Shawn: It’s somewhere I want to sit. I’m not convinced this one’s doing anything for anyone yet. It just feels like regular Taco Bell.

Kacha: Yeah, it’s not there yet.

Shawn: What’s going on with these lights? Did the workmen leave these here? Are they not done? They’re not done … almost. Work in progress.

Kacha: Go, keep going, Taco Bell!

Shawn: Great! And we’ve got one more.

Kacha: What do you got?

Shawn: Taco Bell’s Halloween costume contest.

Kacha: Oh, that’s awesome! Yeah! It engages users.

Shawn: This is what Frontier wanted to do.

Kacha: You’ve given people something to talk about and something to post and share.

Shawn: I look forward to these in my feed.

Kacha: Are you thumbs up?

Shawn: I’m solid thumbs up.

Kacha: All right, great! We love that one.

Shawn: That’s all I’ve got for Bittie Bites. Kacha?

Kacha: That’s all for me. Thank you for watching. Thank you for hanging out with us today. If you have any more questions feel free to hit us up @SkidmoreStudio on Twitter and we’ll be happy to answer them next week. Take care.

Shawn: Thanks, guys.