When you consider how quickly a fast food advertising gimmick spreads, it is pretty ironic that fast food clogs arteries and slows the flow of blood to our essential organs. Fast food chains from Hardee’s to KFC have relied on catchy phrases and unforgettable characters to peddle the latest, greatest thing that can be tossed into a bag and handed to you out a drive-thru window for decades. In fact, the idea of viral advertising was common to the fast food industry long before “viral content” as we know it today even existed.
Wendy’s – “Where’s The Beef?”
I challenge you to find anyone over the age of 30 who doesn’t automatically flash back to 1984 when they hear the phrase “Where’s The Beef?” This commercial certainly fits all of the criteria for viral content today – a memorable character, a caricature-like supporting player (the giant bun) and an absolute gem of a catch phrase in “Where’s The Beef?”.
This commercial revolutionized fast food advertising and changed the face of Wendy’s forever. In a world dominated by heat lamps and proud proclamations of “billions sold…” by McDonald’s – 1984’s unrivaled fast food giant – Wendy’s set out to change the way that people viewed fast food. Wendy’s hoped to make a parody out of all other fast food burger joints by illustrating what set them apart – the fact that their burgers were not only bigger, but better… period.
Couple that with an elderly woman yelling something as inherently amusing as, “Where’s The Beef?” and you wind up with advertising gold that is as recognizable and amusing today as it was 25 years ago. Wendy’s continued that trend with future slogans including: “Quality Is Our Recipe”, “Eat Great, Even Late”, “It’s Better Here”, “Do What Tastes Right”, and most recently, “It’s Not Just Fast Food, It’s Wendy’s”.
Taco Bell – “Yo Queiro Taco Bell”
Animals play in advertising, even for fast food. Animals doing something they don’t normally do…like talking, also plays in advertising. When you add in the fact that it’s a Chihuahua speaking a combination of Spanish and English with a thick Spanish accent, you have Taco Bell’s infamous 1997 viral contribution to the fast food advertising realm – “Yo Quiero Taco Bell”.
This commercial was naturally viral and was bound for the fast food commercial hall of fame from the moment it was launched. First, there’s “the cute factor”…or, for some, the “so ugly, he’s cute factor”. People like dogs. People like the idea that their dogs possess certain human qualities – like the ability to communicate. “Aww…look, – Pepe wants some of my taco…” Just then the dog utters the phrase, “Yo Queiro Taco Bell”. Amusing…unexpected…catchy – and most of all – destined to be repeated by kids, adolescents and drunken college students hundreds of thousands of times a day.
The Taco Bell Chihuahua was so popular that it remained a part of Taco Bell’s advertising campaigns for years following its initial release. Perhaps you’ll recall these gems:
The campaign was so successful and had such longevity that Taco Bell even released a line of stuffed Chihuahuas, Chihuahua keychains, and toys that are still being sold on eBay, Amazon.com and countless other online retailers.
McDonald’s – Beanie Babies Happy Meal Toys
While Wendy’s set out to tout the quality of their food with “Where’s The Beef” and Taco Bell set out to ratchet up the cute and/or funny meter with “Yo Quiero Taco Bell”, McDonald’s took a different approach – to call no attention to the food whatsoever. Some of the most successful McDonald’s advertising campaigns actually have nothing to with their food or anyone wanting their food, but with “stuff”. One very popular and reoccurring McDonald’s advertising campaign is their annual “Monopoly” game, which ultimately results in millions of prizes being given away that vary from cars to vacations to cash – and yes, they give away a lot of their food, too.
McDonald’s, more so than perhaps any other fast food chain, understands its target market – kids. It all started with Ronald McDonald – a character that most adults find a bit creepy, yet children seem to adore. What McDonald’s learned from Ronald is that no matter how the parents feel about a restaurant chain, its food or its iconic character, the demands of their children more often than not win in the end. So – at least until recently – rather than of improving the quality of their food to cater to the more sophisticated adult taste buds, they simply targeted a market lower expectations on the quality of the food, but an incredibly and unrelenting demand for TOYS!
Happy Meal toys are always a draw for kids, but absolutely nothing comes close to the demand and utter lunacy that ensues with each release of the latest Ty Teenie Beanie Babies that can only be found at McDonalds. The viral nature of this campaign isn’t just about kids, though. Beanie Babies are a crossover item – hailed by kids as a cute toy animal and by adults as a collectible. While the fascination with these toys completely eludes me, there are literally thousands of Beanie Baby crazed collectors across the country that will elbow one another in the face at their local Hallmark just to get their hands on the latest release. Sets of retired Beanie Babies have been reportedly sold for hundreds of dollars.
The real genius of McDonald’s campaign was that the toys were only available from them. This is the kicker – you couldn’t buy them outright…they came only as a Happy Meal toy, a new Beanie was released each week for several weeks and once they were gone, they were gone. So, not only was this an advertising campaign that got people talking, it was a viral campaign that kept people talking – and coming back – week, after week, after week. Advertising genius!