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Taco Bell's Brian Niccol on creativity, cultural relevance

David Durochik
Taco Bell president Brian Niccol talked about the importance of being part of the cultural dialogue.

In his first public remarks since being named president of Taco Bell, Brian Niccol talked to the crowd at the 2013 Intersport Activation Summit about the importance of authenticity and being culturally relevant.

“If you go back a while ago, we were trying to figure out how we activate the mark,” said Niccol, who was recently promoted from his job as the company’s chief marketing officer. “Now I think we’re trying to figure how we activate the experience.”

As an example, he pointed to the “Steal A Base, Steal A Taco” campaign during the MLB postseason, which was a taco giveaway keyed to a base being stolen during a game. Niccol said it was crucial that the campaign be timely, and that when the Giants’ Angel Pagan stole a base to activate the promotion, Taco Bell used immediate advertising and social media to take advantage of something that was already being talked about. “We literally had the ad on the air the next morning,” he said. “It has to be topical. At the same time we’re trying to activate this on television, we’re activating it on digital, social, mobile, radio. We literally tried to activate everything simultaneous to when the event actually occurred. It was powerful because instantly we amplified the idea.”

Niccol talked about how a lot of marketing is not on point. “I actually think that a lot of the marketing that is going on right now is just flat-out bad,” he said. “Bad and antiquated. We have a real tendency to take a pendulum and swing it one way or the other. Very rarely do we operate in the space where we say, ‘You know what, I’m going to treat this like a fan member. I’m going to treat this in such a way that people want to talk about it again and again and again.’ As opposed to just logo slapping or making a bad ad and bad marketing that people will not want to see again.”

On brands remaining true to their consumers: “Authenticity is now the absolute minimum cost of entry. If you’re not authentic, you’re going to hear about it on Twitter, Facebook. You’re going to hear about it because consumers are tired of the shill. If you keep the authenticity, people will engage with your brand in a very big way.”

On an ideal partnership with teams and leagues: “Sometimes you like to get into the nitty gritty of the pennies and dollars of what it’s going to cost. But I think if you can start the conversation around how am I going to build sales and how are we going to build the brand over time, you’ll find that usually you can come up with much more powerful ideas than working through the Excel spreadsheet.”

On activating through sports: “We uniquely have the power of sports or these platforms or brands to truly influence the way people talk and connect.”
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