In the last six months, Taco Bell’s spots have mostly been soundtracked by up-and-coming acts more prone to appear in Pitchfork reviews or buzz-building Spotify playlists than in major ad campaigns.
Since the brand tapped Turnstile for an autumn ad around its popular Nacho Fries, Taco Bell’s Feed the Beat program, executed in partnership with entertainment marketing agency The Syndicate, has accelerated. After years within the underground hardcore-punk scene, the Baltimore band has rapidly glowed up, garnering Grammy nominations and a spot on Blink-182’s arena tour. But their inclusion in a Taco Bell spot was still a surprise, underscoring how Feed The Beat is bringing the brand closer to emerging acts, not only ones with household names.
“When that industrial hit, lots of things modified,” said Jon Landman, CEO of The Syndicate. “The conversation from lots of the punk and hardcore community was like, ‘This is definitely really cool.’ That’s a part of the culture that is modified towards how artists get greater and become profitable in comparison with what it was 10 or 15 years ago.”
On the road
Turnstile — together with other spot soundtrackers including pop-punk revivalists Meet Me @ The Altar and boundary pushers Bludnymph, Priya Ragu and whiterosemoxie — are a part of Feed The Beat, a long-running Taco Bell program that supports touring musicians for whom the brand is the rare chain that’s open late after gigs, meets most dietary restrictions and preferences and guarantees inexpensive, craveable food.
Along with an evolution on what musicians and fans consider “selling out” versus “buying in,” Feed The Beat — a program that the brand doesn’t promote extensively — has benefited from word-of-mouth within the music industry that has allowed it to construct equity and credibility with a recent generation of bands.
“Taco Bell is an establishment within the touring world, it’s what literally every band finds themselves eating, probably more often than they would love to confess,” said Ian Shelton, whose band Militarie Gun is featured in considered one of the brand’s latest spots, in an announcement. “Ever since I used to be a child and heard of them giving food to touring bands, I imagined getting free Taco Bell. Can’t imagine it’s finally happened.”
Militarie Gun, set to release a debut album on June 23, will not be yet at the extent of Turnstile, let alone Taco Bell brand ambassadors Doja Cat and Lil Nas X. But that authentic connection between brand and band is what drives Feed The Beat, and stays a tenet for other marketers looking to have interaction with consumers around music and culture.
“The whole goal was to support these artists that were on the market attempting to live their dreams — those that were attempting to be able where they might tour and play music as a living,” said Graham Rothenberg, president and general manager of The Syndicate. “Taco Bell was truly the fuel that was providing them sustenance while they were on the road.”
Feed The Beat grew out of The Syndicate’s work managing artists and working with brands like Taco Bell, and since its launch in 2006, this system has supported about 2,000 artists. The program’s title is literal, and began with Taco Bell providing bands with no-strings-attached $500 gift cards.
“We view these artists being a part of Feed The Beat as rather more of a handshake and a high five than an endorsement deal or sponsorship,” said Landman. “For lots of artists, we’re their first corporate relationship, and every little thing is opt-in… the connection is de facto on their terms.”
From there, this system has evolved to incorporate participating musicians’ songs in TV and digital promoting created by Taco Bell’s creative agency, Deutsch LA. Sync deals that pay artists and other rights holders for song usage have develop into a income or bands feeling the crunch from diminished streaming payouts and increased tour costs.
“While there is a transaction involved, these relationships aren’t transactional. We’re proud that we’re capable of provide greater than just free Taco Bell food by giving these bands an even bigger platform and a revenue stream once we feature them in our spots to make sure they’re able to take care of being musicians full time,” said Tim Bergevin, Taco Bell’s vice chairman of influencer and community marketing, in an announcement.
The strategy behind Feed The Beat is in keeping with Taco Bell’s other musically informed efforts. After a five-year break, the brand returned to the Super Bowl in 2022 with help from Doja Cat. The pop star and brand super-fan starred in a madcap spot that featured her reworked version of Hole’s 1998 hit “Celebrity Skin” because the brand fused contemporary culture with ‘90s nostalgia.
The Taco Bell-Doja Cat connection represents the head of what any such relationship can do for a brand. The singer-rapper was in conversation with Taco Bell when it took its popular Mexican Pizza item off the menu, causing a social media controversy that she helped stoke.
From there, Taco Bell, The Syndicate, the artist’s management and label and Doja Cat herself collaborated on a long-term play that included not only the Super Bowl spot, but a TikTok spoof and a musical co-starring Dolly Parton. Less than two weeks after its return, Taco Bell was running out of ingredients for the Mexican Pizza — a logistical nightmare, but perhaps a welcomed problem.
“It would not have come back and been so successful if the artist wasn’t a large fan — we couldn’t have gone and rented someone’s equity [otherwise],” Landman said. “The brand couldn’t sustain with the demand of Mexican Pizza, and that was truly incredible.
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