Taco Bell finally gave in and brought French fries to its U.S. locations. Now the company is building up to the release of its fries coated in "Mexican seasoning" and served with "nacho cheese sauce" with a video trailer, released yesterday, for a supposed movie that mocks the conspiratorial mystery genre. The question is whether people will pay any significant attention.
It's not the first recent menu item that has tried to give a boost to the company's fortunes. Last fall, Taco Bell tested its "Chocoladilla", a melted Kit Kat bar inside a tortilla, last fall. Lazy as all get out according to my colleague Eric Mack, but it got attention, at least for a few days. Very little since. The new commercial, called "Web of Fries," may not even get that far given how things are going. It lacks the amusement value and emotional intelligence a piece like this needs.
First, here's the video.
It's comes across as involved and ultimately dull, although it tries hard. As of late morning on January 19th when I checked, it had 7,602 views total.
Far be it from me to draw early conclusions, but that doesn't seem to have a viral aroma to it. There are a number of reasons why that might be happening.
The piece came out only yesterday, so perhaps there hasn't been enough opportunity for views. But in my experience of material that goes viral, the attention starts to come relatively quickly. If you're in four digits after a day, you may not get much further.
Too close to form
Parody is a difficult line to walk. You need enough similarity for recognition and enough contrast to create the juxtaposition between expectations and surprise that helps create humor. But the video leans too heavily on tropes and visual clichés from a long string of movies with conspiracy as a major theme. The differences, talking about fries, don't provide enough of a unique test to be truly funny. For example, instead of a thumb drive passed over in an envelope by some mail room worker who hastens away, why not have the person drop a taco on the guy's desk?
There were places the ad could have gone further and created more humor. For example, the hero of the piece is at an amusement park with his daughter, who shows him a fry half coated in ketchup given to her by a sinister clown as a warning. A reference to McDonald's clearly, except the clown's makeup was entirely different from the well known burger icon and there was only one other place in the 90 seconds where clowns appear (in a car trying to run the protagonist off the road). Compare that to this clever Burger King commercial from last fall that garnered hundreds of thousands of views.
Repetition is an important part of humor's rhythm. Why not have all the conspiring characters dressed as clowns? For that matter, why not have people dressed as royalty as well to invoke Burger King? My bet is that lawyers got overly and unnecessarily involved.
Dependence on a "name"
The company hired actor Josh Duhamel to play the man trying to uncover the burger conspiracy. Maybe it's the 1.5 million followers he has on Twitter and 1.9 million on Instagram, as many casting decisions are made based on social media following these days. But it's not clear how much audiences transfer. Plus, Duhamel, as of when I checked today, hadn't mentioned the video on either of these accounts. Come on, folks, if you want to use a name, whether A-, B-, or C-list, and count on a social media pickup, make sure they mention the work.
Too male and white
Combined criticisms of sexual harassment and gender and racial discrimination in entertainment have been significant over the last few years. So, why create an ad with a white male protagonist, white male antagonists, one black man who's apparently guiding the hero and so becomes the conspiracy's "Magical Negro," and women who are weak and ultimately hysterical creatures concerned for their man?
There were so many possibilities of turning the clichés on their heads and maybe doing some social good and getting additional attention to boot. Talk about a complete emotional intelligence miss.
So, what could have been a clever twist on pop culture that helped sell an idea instead is likely to become a distant meh-mory.