Taco Bell Uses Irreverent Personality and Constant Menu Innovation to Put Itself In a Category of One
Taco Bell Uses Irreverent Personality and Constant Menu Innovation to Put Itself In a Category of One

According to Marisa Thalberg, Taco Bell’s Chief Marketing Officer, the popular chain has emerged as a culture-centric lifestyle brand.

Today’s digital landscape requires brands to continuously reformat and refocus their strategies to reach a deeper connection with consumers. So how can a brand get the lasting attention of people who are constantly bombarded by digital advertisements and have a persistently split focus? Marisa Thalberg, Chief Marketing Officer for Taco Bell, recognizes the challenges facing modern day marketers, and today, she’s utilizing her industry experience to embrace these challenges and create campaigns that truly strike a chord with audiences.


After eight years of working as the vice president of digital and content marketing worldwide for cosmetics company Estee Lauder, Thalberg packed her bags and moved cross-country with her family to Irvine, California to join Taco Bell as their chief brand engagement officer. In this role, she handled public relations and consumer marketing for the multibillion-dollar company. Then, after just nine months with the company, she was promoted to chief marketing officer, and she now oversees all product and brand marketing operations, including consumer engagement.  


In a recent interview with Forbes, Thalberg said that she decided to join Taco Bell because of the brand’s unique concept and its legacy in American culture. The company was first founded in 1962 by California native, Glen Bell. Two decades before this, Bell started out with a hot dog stand in San Bernardino, California, and after watching the long lines at a nearby Mexican restaurant, he decided to convert the stand into a taco cart called Taco-Tia. After much success with the concept, the first Taco Bell opened in Downey, California. Within a period of five years, the company had already reached 100 locations.


Now, with almost 7,000 locations nationwide and plans to open 2,000 more locations internationally by 2022, one of the biggest focuses for Thalberg in her new role is refocusing the brand’s marketing goals by questioning, “What is the brand’s future vision?” and “How do we plan to get there?” In her Forbes interview, Thalberg discussed Taco Bell’s potential to further convey the brand’s fun personality through its innovative menu that’s continuously changing, future restaurant design updates and their nonprofit organization, The Taco Bell Foundation that helps provide educational opportunities to teens.


“For Taco Bell, it’s always been about being clear of who we are and who we’re not. We’ve grown up a little, but we have a sense of humor and a desire to not take ourselves to seriously. There’s an aspect of the brand that consumers play back to us—that we’re an underdog and a friend. We create amazing value, we’re affordable and accessible, but there’s no compromise because of the food experiences we create,” Thalberg said. “We have flavor, spice and creative food. The win-win that’s so unique to us is that our menu is never boring and we’re always inventing. It’s like fast-fashion of food. And it’s affordable. There’s something so democratizing about that. Then when you put the personality behind it, and you have the perfect recipe.”


Once these goals are nailed down, Thalberg’s job as a marketer is to create the precise type of campaign to fulfill each goal. Thalberg spoke at this year’s Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Annual Leadership Meeting and talked about how creating effective campaigns can be increasingly tricky with the rise of everything digital. She emphasized the art of finding stories and the people behind them as key, but then intersecting these stories with the science of digital and the proper mediums. Whether that be traditional media such as radio or new media like Snapchat, she believes it’s the perfect balance for reaching lasting success.


Back in May, for Cinco de Mayo, Thalberg was behind the creation of the taco lens filter on Snapchat that turned people’s heads into tacos. The simple campaign was the most viewed Snapchat Lens to date with 224 million views in a single day. And this month, the brand partnered with Sony PlayStation VR and is launched a pop-up virtual reality arcade on September 22 in the trendy SoHo neighborhood in New York. Attendees can eat free tacos and Quesaritos while experiencing and navigating through virtual reality scenarios like a street-luge race.


Knowing what’s trending among millennials—a huge target audience for the brand—and keeping up with what’s next in technology is one of Taco Bell’s strongest fortes. Thalberg understands that digital marketing is now the essence of marketing in this day and age and is fearless in tackling new challenges as technologies and mediums transition. In just eight months as CMO, she’s produced huge wins for the company and shattered social media records; the opportunities for marketing success are endless with Thalberg’s innovative mind at the helm of Taco Bell.


“Taco Bell is a culture-centric lifestyle brand. I believe when you have the right vision, you can achieve anything,” Thalberg said.