When it comes to fast food, packaging is important. In the case of Taco Bell's new marketing campaign, the company missed the mark by just a few calories.

Hoping to capitalize on 2010 New Year's fitness resolutions, the Mexican fast food chain has created ads for  "The Drive-Thru Diet," but the company's foray into the informercial revolution is getting mixed results. Why? It confuses healthier food items with a regime that will lead to impressive weight loss. And comes off as incinsire.

Taco Bell's campaign plays on the healthier parts of the company's menu and features a customer who lost a good deal of weight eating the company's products. Like Subways' Jared Fogel, Christine Dougherty lost over 50 pounds by lowering her caloric intake and eating meals from one fast food chain.

But Taco Bell overstates its case with boasts of how she achieved these goals by adhering to the "Drive-Thru Diet." Running on the bottom of the screen for said commercials are a series of disclaimers.

And Dougherty, who exercised and cut her daily caloric intake from 1,750 to 1,250 per day, admits in the ads that her "results aren't typical, but for me, they're fantastic!" Meanwhile, Taco Bell acknowledges that this "isn't a weight-loss program," but the presentation mimics diet tools and wonder drugs.

In addition to traditional advertising, digital and in-store elements, the campaign features a long-form infomercial that treats Taco Bell products like a fool proof weightloss tool:

Between testimonials from "TV Personality" Chris Rose and a registered dietician from the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers brought on to lend credibility to the campaign, Taco Bell is pushing hard to prove the healthfulness of its menu items. But the company pushes its efforts just a bit too far by marketing this as a "Drive-Thru Diet," implying that customers will lose weight by driving up to their closest Taco Bell. As Rose puts it:

"Take your preexisting car, drive it to the closest Taco Bell, you pull up right next to the restaurant and you order off the drive through diet menu. It's that convenient!"

It's a shame, because Taco Bell's menu actually is healthy compared to some other fast food options. The seven items on Taco Bell's "Fresco" menu each contain less than 9 grams of fat, mostly by substituting salsa for the cheese in many Taco Bell offerings.

And compared to other chains, Taco Bell fares pretty well. McDonald's highest calorie item, the Double Quarter Pounder with cheese, weighs in at 770 calories, while the lowest is a 280 calorie hamburger. Meanwhile, Taco Bell's grilled stuft burrito is the heaviest item the company sells at 720 calories, and the Taco Supreme is only 22 calories, according to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center's similarly named "Drive Thru Diet" nutritional look up program. Meanwhile, Subway, the fast food company that has most succeeded with communicating a healthy image, sells a six inch Meatball Marinara sandwich that clocks in at 740 calories. It's lowest calorie item is the Atkins-Friendly Wrap, which contains 120 calories of food.

The American populace is increasingly concious of calories and health items, even if their actual diets may not reflect those changes. While all food chains want to position themselves in a way that most entices consumers, just a slight overreach can have negative implications. And while many consumers have expressed interest in Taco Bell's healthier items, the "Drive Thru Diet" terminology is backfiring in many areas. 

Recent tweets are mostly negative or satirical. A sample:

Taco Bell’s “Fresco” menu items have long been a part of healthful fast-food options, but overemphasizing their weight loss benefits isn't useful for Taco Bell.

Taco Bell Rob Poetsch spokesman tells AdAge:

"Over the years, we've heard stories from our customers who have lost weight by incorporating Fresco into their meal choices, and Christine had written Taco Bell a letter detailing her journey. Her story is a great example of how making better choices can inspire many."

But her story isn't exactly an example that will benefit large groups of Americans. Limiting a diet to 1,250 calories a day will certainly help with losing weight, but it's not necessarily sustainable or reasonable to fill those limited calories with Taco Bell products.

Mr. Poetsch continues: "It's our hope that people who are looking to eat fewer calories and fat will hear about our new menu and Fresco-style foods and learn how they can fit them into their lifestyles."

But that message could have been conveyed in a way that made Taco Bell look forward thinking rather than making claims at the risk of the company's sincerity.

Images: Taco Bell/Twitter

Meghan Keane

Published 5 January, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (4)

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Will

The taco supreme is only 22 calories? Sounds like the perfect diet food to me! :D

about 8 years ago

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lorena hithe

Do you have a list with the food and the calories for each one.

about 8 years ago

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Dr. McIntosh

Great review. As you mentioned, fat and total calories must be addressed. In addition to what you wrote, there is also the factor of sky-high sodium in the entire Taco Bell Menu, including the Drive Thru Menu. And not just Taco Bell, either, but dang, most of the fast-food chains share this problem. Good job. By the way, for Lorena Hithe... you can go to 'drivethrudiet.com' and find the official Taco Bell Nutritional Calculator somewhere on the page.

almost 8 years ago

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Lisa L

We all know this isn't a diet. And what about the other factors, the up-sells and the soft-drinks... how many people could really resist the other temptations at the order counter every day... how many could resist going for one of the other tasty high-calorie, high-fat items? Or just as bad, the dose of high-fructose corn syrup in the lovely beverages you might order to wash down your Fresco menu meal? Or worse, the chemical sweeteners. They must think we're stupid or completely ignorant.

almost 8 years ago

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