Taco Bell is taking a page out of Subway's weight-loss-spokesperson playbook in 2010, with an integrated campaign (including an infomercial) featuring a "real-life" Taco Bell fan promoting its "Drive-Thru Diet Menu."
Subway's significant sales gains after its 1998 introduction of spokesperson Jared Fogle, who said that the chain's sandwiches helped him drop 245 pounds in a year, are by now the stuff of marketing case studies -- and Subway itself recently announced that it will extend the strategy in 2010 by sponsoring a "Biggest Loser" contestant.
KFC, although not using a spokesperson, is also currently targeting the weight-conscious via its "Penny Per Calorie" campaign for a 395-calorie, $3.95 grilled chicken meal, complete with gravy.
Taco Bell's campaign, being rolled out in time to join the avalanche of New Year's weight-loss advertising, features one Christine Dougherty and includes the rather novel addition of an infomercial. Dougherty says she lost 54 pounds over two years by reducing her daily calories by 500 (to 1,250) -- in part by switching from more caloric QSR meals to Taco Bell "Fresco" items.
Fresco offerings are now part of what's been dubbed the Drive-Thru Diet Menu, which includes seven items with calories ranging between 150 and 340 and fat grams ranging between four and eight. These items use ingredients such as salsa and lean chicken or steak in place of cheese, sour cream and fattier meats within burritos and tacos.
Dougherty's story and before-and-after photos (including a bikini shot) are already featured in a dedicated area (drivethrudiet.com) within Taco Bell's site, and the campaign will also include traditional advertising, in-store signage and PR.
In addition to the emphasis on drive-through convenience (Taco Bell reports that it does about 70% of its business through its drive-up windows), the campaign's twists include integration into Taco Bell's existing NBA marketing partnership and an infomercial.
Along with Dougherty, Taco Bell has signed dietician Ruth Carey, nutritionist for the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers, to offer "sound nutrition advice for people looking to make better choices at QSRs." The infomercial will feature tips from Carey, in addition to Dougherty's detailed telling of her weight-loss story, the chain reports.
The campaign's copy includes disclaimers such as "not a weight-loss program," "not a low-calorie food" and "these results aren't typical," and points out that a "healthier lifestyle" requires paying attention to total calorie and fat intake and regular exercise.
Some nutritionists interviewed by ABC News and other media outlets are already labeling the campaign hypocritical in light of the chain's promotion of high-calorie, high-fat items such as half-pound burritos and Volcano Nachos. But others say that given Americans' unwillingness to give up fast food, it's better to have some healthier items available on QSR menus.
Other QSRs that have introduced healthier menu items in recent years include McDonald's (salads, Go Active! meals), Burger King (veggie burgers) and Pizza Hut (reduced-fat Fit N Delicious pizzas).