Doja Cat, Taco Bell and the Mexican Pizza Marketing Unicorn

It was all inevitable. Probably. This week, Taco Bell announced it was running low on ingredients for its Mexican pizza, less than two weeks after the once-popular item was back on the menu. According to the company, demand is seven times higher than the last time it was on the menu, in November 2020. It was reduced as part of the brand’s streamlining efforts.

The explosion in demand can be attributed to two things: First, this fast-food-cultural Franken snack is, by almost every account, a orgiastic feast for the senses, a wonderfully hearty wheel of spiciness crowned only by its majestic weight. Second, the brand has enjoyed a huge boost for the return of Mexican pizza thanks to a unique, ongoing partnership with musical artist Doja Cat. The tl:dr version is that Doja Cat tweeted a demand for Mexican pizza in 2020; the brand eventually signed her as an official partner and featured her in a Super Bowl ad in February. All the while, she used her personal platforms like TikTok and the Coachella stage to hype the return of Mexican pizza.

This is not your standard celebrity or artist brand collaboration. It’s a magical double rainbow of cultural relevance that leads to gangbuster sales that every major marketer strives for on a daily basis. Hoping, wishing, dreaming that it will happen to them, despite a cultural news cycle that gobbles up and spits out the brightest ideas without a hint of relevance.

What’s even more remarkable here is that this isn’t something that can be easily replicated by any other brand, let alone Taco Bell itself. You could call this a marketer’s unicorn. But despite its extraordinarily casual appearance, success like this is actually the result of significant groundwork — the kind that can more often bring unique opportunities and cultural breakthroughs for brands and marketers.

When Taco Bell dropped Mexican pizza, Doja Cat tweeted like any brand fan could to register her disappointment.

Please @Taco Bell bring back mexican pizza and spicy potato soft taco. I ask you kindly first.

— vibegina (@DojaCat) September 3, 2020

Her passion for the cause didn’t fade over time, and another tweet followed about a year later. This time the brand responded.

Doja ✍️ want ✍️ Mexican ✍️ Pizza ✍️

— Taco Bell (@tacobell) September 21, 2021

Along with his ad agency, Deutsch LA, Taco Bell not only officially signed Doja Cat, but it gave the top artist more creative control than is usually found in a celebrity brand partnership. The result was an intriguing mix of official A commercials, such as a big-budget Super Bowl spot, combined with branded appearances on the artist’s personal TikTok feed. Bridging the two, she also plans to create a Taco Bell-themed TikTok musical featuring the legendary Dolly Parton. Big commercial, rooted in an authentic relationship with a fan, who happens to be one of the hottest pop stars in the world.

If that sounds familiar, you might remember McDonald’s ongoing “Famous Orders” campaign, which sees famous fans tap into their favorite combination from the Golden Arches menu, co-brand, pair it with limited-edition merchandise and immediately sell out of all items. the. Rinse and repeat. The House of Ronald has done it so far with Travis Scott, J Balvin, BTS, Saweetie and Mariah Carey, and there seems to be no end to this highly scalable celebrity format. The Taco Bell-Doja Cat co-brand is different because the work—and how it’s done—is unique to this artist.

Unlike famous partners’ approaches to McDonald’s and Taco Bell, you’d think any marketing executive would choose McD’s every time, simply because of its scalability beyond a single big name. There are the copycats to prove this point. But they should also actively strive to be both authentic and consistent in how their brands interact with culture, which provides the lens through which every opportunity is judged.

The partnership with Doja Cat may be unique, but it’s not the first time Taco Bell has found a fun way to tap into a celebrity fan. Last August, it signed Lil Nas X — who once worked at one of the brand’s Atlanta-area locations — as its new Chief Impact Officer.

life is over, i’m officially back to work at taco bell.

— MONTERO (@LilNasX) August 23, 2021

Sean Tresvant, Taco Bell’s global chief brand officer, tells me that this generation of consumers values ​​transparency and authenticity, and seeks genuine communication from brands, so she built her entire campaign around that idea.

“We allowed Doja to be Doja and that had a real impact on creating meaningful and genuine connections with fans at every touchpoint,” said Tresvant. “It’s about relinquishing control and trusting the process and the partner. And while that can be difficult at times, I think you can see the reward in Mexican pizza work.”

For some extra perspective, I called up Observatory CEO Jae Goodman, who has a long career linking artists to brands, such as Kacey Musgraves and Chipotle or, more recently, helping orchestrate Doritos’ upcoming Stranger Things-branded concert with Charli XCX, The Go-Gos and more. Goodman says consistency in brand values ​​and vision allows marketers to take advantage of the serendipity of, say, a major pop star tweeting about it.

“When a brand is authentic, consistent, and has that lightning-in-a-bottle moment, they know exactly what the opportunities are to take advantage of it,” Goodman says. “So it feels less like a one-off, and more like a brand you know and love doing something within their brand values ​​that just happens to take advantage of something that happens in the culture cycle.”

Doritos has long featured music and artists in its ads, whether it was Peter Dinklage and Morgan Freeman getting combat rap tutorials from Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott, or a Super Bowl showdown between Lil Nas X and Sam Elliott.

“The way Doritos behaves now in things like the Super Bowl, and how it behaved in the culture back then, it’s completely believable that there was a Doritos Musicfest ’86,” Goodman says, referring to the upcoming concert event.

As the pop culture cycle continues to churn, it’s an approach more brands will have to take to get the kind of attention and coverage Taco Bell has captured with Doja Cat. A strong brand voice and the confidence and consistency to be comfortable with the discomfort of relinquishing control to an unpredictable force, even if it’s just “a goddamn jingle”.

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