Marketing in its traditional sense no longer works in the competitive restaurant industry, said Greg Creed, chief executive of Taco Bell.
Creed, speaking Thursday at the People Report Summer Brand Camp conference in Dallas, said the term “marketing” is dying out and, in its place, brands are becoming “publishers” and telling their own stories.
“You need positive news out there everyday,” Creed said. “If we don’t fill the airwaves with positive news, there will be things out there like the kid licking the tacos.”
The Irving, Calif.-division of Yum Brands faced a viral firestorm Monday after a photo of an employee licking a stack of taco shells appeared on Facebook and made the rounds on Twitter. The company later said the shells were being thrown out at a franchise location and never were served to customers.
“You cannot control this,” Creed said, “just as we could not control the kid who licked the taco. What we can do is damage control to the best of our ability. But let’s be honest, 17-year-olds are going to do dumb-ass things.”
Creed said companies must train employees and make them aware that these sorts of actions have consequences, especially in the age of fast-moving social media.
“If you are a control freak, you’re not going to like the future,” he said.
Social media is important as Taco Bell grows, he added. “We think we can double the size of Taco Bell in the next 10 years,” he said. “That’s a pretty bold goal. We think we can go from $7 billion, which is what we were at the end of 2011, to about $14 billion by the end of 2021.
“The good news is that I’ll be retired by then, so if we don’t achieve it, I won’t be responsible,” he said with a laugh.
Recent success for the brand, such as the “Live Mas” slogan and new platforms like the Doritos Locos Taco and Cantina Bell, have been based on what Creed calls the public’s changing approach to food. “Food has gone from fuel to food as an experience,” he said. “That’s not a Taco Bell insight; that’s a category insight. I watch television, and I watch social media, and I think some brands are still marketing food as fuel.”
Millions of Doritos Locos Tacos in two flavors have inspired Taco Bell fans, Creed said. And with 123 flavors of Doritos around the world, he added quickly, “I don’t think we’ll run out of flavors very soon.”
The brand’s Cantina Bell platform “introduced flavors, tastes and ingredients that people didn’t traditionally expect from Taco Bell” and made it more relevant, Creed said, noting that the platform will launch quesadillas and fajitas in the next five to six weeks.