Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Don't quit the day job, Greg

I’m just the messenger on this because I hadn’t seen the ads until tonight. But I don’t think the criticism was unjustly harsh or off-target. If my friends and colleagues are any indication, Taco Bell’s attempt to allay food-safety concerns with a commercial featuring chain president Greg Creed is a waste of money. It’s not as if those associates doubt the safety of Taco Bell. As one put it, the contamination of produce at the farm level has turned dining out into a crapshoot, and the lettuce-triggered outbreak of E. coli that sickened 71 Taco Bell customers was just a stroke of bad luck for a chain that apparently did nothing wrong.

But nor did it do right by airing the spots that feature Creed. There he appears in a unit, wearing a suit, assuring patrons that it’s safe to eat in Taco Bell restaurants again. As one colleague put it, the guy doesn’t look as if he’s eaten a taco in years. Another noted that she saw the spot in Atlanta, where fright levels were minimal to start because the outbreak hadn’t extend that far south. At best, the spots do no harm. At worst, they do no good.

The Yum! Brands-owned chain might have fared better if it’d heeded the advice of my wife, who views all major fast-food chains as the handiwork of Satan. Michael Jacobson of CSPI would blush at her vehemence.

But she may be onto something this time. If Taco Bell really wants to assure patrons that fears of a food-borne illness are ungrounded, then its executives should eat lunch and dinner in the once-contaminated stores for a week straight. The canaries who put themselves in the coal mine should include the units’ managers and regional directors.

And Creed should do the same. Ideally with his family. That would do a lot more to demonstrate confidence than the most aggressive television blitz.

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