masthead-highres

Friday, May 21, 2004

I Prefer My Sauce to Be Nonpolitical, Thank You Very Much

Something odd is going on over at Taco Bell. Maybe it is a joke by a Taco Bell employee who needs to be replaced. Or maybe the corporation is disfunctional.

I know one thing: I'm not putting any of my kids' college savings into their parent company's stock unless there is a reasonable explanation.

Here's the background. Alerted by the Ramblings' Journal blog, run by Project 21 member Michael King, who received a pointer from talk radio's incomparable Neal Boortz, I visited the TacoBell.com website.

There the company informs the public that it is sponsoring a contest to find humorous sayings it can print on sauce packages. According to the main website and a May 19 Taco Bell press release, the solicited sayings must meet four requirements. They must be: simple, left of center, provide insight on the little things in life, and not exceed 70 characters.

Left of center?

Odd point number one is that a company with the customer base of Taco Bell (and its fellow subsidiaries of corporate parent Yum! Brands, Inc., which are KFC, Long John Silvers, A&W and Pizza Hut) would decide that its sauce packets are the place for left-wing political statements. Odd point number two is that the company would issue a press release alerting a nation that is 41 percent conservative that they are part of the vast left-wing conspiracy.

Odd point number three, though, is that the sample sayings Taco Bell provides aren't political at all (examples: "My other taco is a Chalupa," "Polly want a taco?"). So that raises the possibility that at least some significant personages at Taco Bell don't actually know what the phrase "left of center" means.

I telephoned Taco Bell for the scoop. That's a crusade in itself! The phone numbers one can glean from the website don't reach human operators. I tried the phone number for people who have a million dollars to invest as new Taco Bell franchisees, figuring that line at least would reach a live person. No such luck -- it just rings unanswered. The parent company's website wasn't helpful, either. Finally I got the idea to check the parent company's required filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, figuring they probably do share their phone number with the SEC. Yes! I downloaded their last filing, and found a phone number in it. Voila! A human answered and I was transferred to Yum! Brands' public relations, which in turn gave me the phone number for the Taco Bell press office.

I have not quite hit the informational jackpot, however, as the Taco Bell press office said it would have to call me back.

So there it sits. Are Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silvers, A&W and Pizza Hut about to face a massive boycott (it won't be necessary to organize one; if Yum! Brands has decided to shill for the left its own sauce packets will spread the word enough to get a boycott going), or is the corporation simply a victim of a mischievous or ignorant employee who desperately needs more oversight?

Or maybe I am the ignorant one. Does "left of center" mean something non-political, when one is speaking of sauce?

I told Taco Bell's press person that I do not have a firm deadline for my opinion writing, but that I hoped to be able to hear back from them today. The ball is now in their court. Watch this blog for more details. If they call back, I'll share what they say. If they don't, I'll call them again.

ADDENDUM: Taco Bell called back. Nice folks. Very friendly. They mean the term "left-of-center" as "quirky," "off the beaten path" -- that sort of thing. What's more, they've been using the phrase "left-of-center" in public documents for three years now, yet the first time (that they know of) that anyone took it as a political statement was yesterday, when someone at the Wall Street Journal called them to ask about it.

So we shouldn't expect to see any calls for socialized medicine on Taco Bell sauce packets anytime soon...

I admit their choice of terms perplexes me, but I concede that I'm not the best judge of what terms are generally thought to be political and which are not. I've been living in the Washington DC area for over a quarter century. Here, everything is political. Everything but Taco Bell, that is.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 2:53 PM

Copyright The National Center for Public Policy Research