SBJ/Sept. 20-26, 2010/In-Depth

Taco Bell's non-endorsement

Dawn Kotowski’s title is general manager of a Taco Bell, but last month she orchestrated one of the summer’s most successful bang-for-the-buck athlete endorsement campaigns.

Her restaurant is just a few minutes from the SUNY-Cortland campus in upstate New York where the Jets held training camp. Jets second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez frequently visited the restaurant for a chicken taco and chicken burrito, hold the tomatoes. Sanchez developed his fondness for Taco Bell growing up in Mission Viejo, Calif., minutes from the company’s headquarters.

On one of Sanchez’s visits, Kotowski bypassed the traditional marketing route with agents and negotiations, and simply asked Sanchez if he would wear a Taco Bell baseball cap at practice, hoping it would be seen on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” reality show.

“She really thought there was no way he would do it,” said Will Bortz, senior manager of public relations and sponsorships at Taco Bell.

Sanchez was shown several times wearing the hat during the five-episode series. So for the price of a hat, Taco Bell received the equivalent of about $68,000 in advertising exposure, according to data provided exclusively to SportsBusiness Journal by Front Row Marketing.

For thinking outside the bun, Kotowski’s savvy was recognized by the company “in a number of ways,” according to Bortz.

— David Broughton
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