Marketing campaigns for that audience use 2-D bar codes and augmented reality tools.

Consumers more often connect chain restaurant Taco Bell with a talking Chihuahua than they do with innovation, says the company’s social media lead Nick Tran. But Tran and Taco Bell’s marketing team are doing their best to change that, in part by incorporating emerging mobile technologies into its marketing. Tran detailed Taco Bell’s use of augmented reality and 2-D bar codes during his presentation this week at Internet Retailer’s Mobile Marketing and Commerce Forum in San Diego.

“People forget that we are this entrepreneurial brand,” Tran said, noting that Taco Bell was the first Mexican fast-food chain, the first quick-service chain to offer free drink refills and the first to offer a value meal combo. In an effort to connect with Millennial-age consumers, a key market for the chain, it over the last two years ran several marketing campaigns that connected Taco Bell to the consumers through their mobile devices.

The first put a quick response, or QR, code on food containers that were emblazoned with MTV branding. Scanning the QR code with a smartphone camera connected consumers to a web site that showed them information about the cable channel’s annual music awards show. More than 427,000 consumers scanned the code in six weeks, Tran said. Taco Bell worked with MTV for the promotion because it wanted to leverage the cache the MTV brand has with younger consumers. The brands ran another QR code campaign this year that offered consumers who scanned the chance to vote for who they wanted to see win the best new artist award, which is determined by popular vote. While he didn’t reveal how many of these votes came through the Taco Bell campaign, he said MTV received 30% more votes for the best new artist award than a year earlier.

The success of these QR campaigns led Taco Bell to try it again, albeit in very different form. The chain, having recently hired a gourmet chef to expand its food offerings, wanted to advertise that news. It decided to run print advertisements featuring QR codes in Us Weekly and People magazine. The twist that made it fresh was that the QR codes were composed of avocados and lemons. Scanning the fruit and veggie codes connected consumers with more information about Taco Bell’s new menu items.

Two further campaigns layered augmented reality tools triggered by smartphone scans of product packaging. Designed to appeal to online gamers, scanning the code with the phone’s camera let consumers see game characters superimposed on the camera screen. One game let consumers play home run derby; the other was a sneak preview of a game developed by Sony PlayStation for the Vida console called Reality Fighters Dojo. Players spent an average of 18 minutes playing home run derby and five minutes playing Reality Fighters Dojo each time they launched the game, Tran said. 


A campaign designed to support the launch of Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos taco let consumers see their names in lights, literally. Consumers who used their smartphones to scan Doritos Locos product packaging were connected to the web and encouraged to say what they thought of the food via Twitter and Facebook. Those comments were then shown on screens in New York’s Times Square and on a billboard in L.A.’s Sunset Boulevard.

“Our consumers age 18-29 love being in the spotlight and they love sharing that with their friends,” Tran said, adding that results blew past Taco Bell’s expectations for the campaign. In six months Taco Bell sold more than 200 million Doritos tacos, by far the chain’s most successful product launch to date, he said.