Taco Bell establishes youth panel

Taco Bell is establishing a long-term youth panel to help the fast-food marketer tap into youth culture and solicit advice on its impending Canadian expansion. The panel, which is being organized and run by the chain's Toronto-based advertising agency, TBWA Chiat/Day,...

Taco Bell is establishing a long-term youth panel to help the fast-food marketer tap into youth culture and solicit advice on its impending Canadian expansion.

The panel, which is being organized and run by the chain’s Toronto-based advertising agency, TBWA Chiat/Day, will comprise about a dozen young people. The group will advise the Mexican-food restaurant chain, best known for its chattering chihuahua spokesdog, which music and movies are considered cool as well as how best to market new food products here in Canada, says Shelagh Stoneham, Taco Bell’s director of marketing.

This is the first such panel for Taco Bell in either the U.S. or Canada. A similar panel is run by Pizza Hut in the U.S., she says.

‘We are rapidly expanding here and we want to hear what our core customers think,’ says Stoneham.

Tricon Global Restaurants (Canada), which owns and markets Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell, plans to open between 300 and 400 Taco Bell locations in the next five years.

Panelists were chosen by a recruiter last month for their outspoken nature and ability to keep up with trends. By keeping the panel small, informal and consistent, Taco Bell is hoping to avoid the pitfalls and canned answers that come out of typical focus groups, says Stoneham. The group will meet once a month and talk informally about what is happening in youth culture and their lives. The group will also be asked their opinion of new Taco Bell products and marketing.

The panel will not replace quantitative research done by the company, but is expected to help ‘fill in the blanks’ and capture the unique voice of the company’s core young consumers, she says.

Youth culture is typically difficult to understand and fraught with danger for the average marketer, says Jennifer Ralston, Taco Bell account director at Chiat/Day. With the establishment of the youth panel, the agency is hoping to help its client get a leg up on its competition.

‘There is not a lot of solid information out there on youth marketing and there is a very thin line between what is hip and what is definitely not hip,’ she says.

In the future, Chiat/Day is hoping to take any lessons learned and possibly create a permanent youth panel that could provide intelligence for the agency’s other clients.

Taco Bell has been left behind somewhat in the recent expansion of the fast food market in Canada. According to NPD Foodservice Information Group, the quick service restaurant (QSR) sector has grown by 24% over the past five years, and now accounts for 62% of all restaurant traffic. At the same time, however, the popularity of Mexican fare has waned in Canada, accounting for only 13% of all meals ordered in 1999 – a 7% drop from the previous year.

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group