There's a legal squabble going on between Taco Bell and rapper 50 Cent over a faux letter the company sent out, asking that the celebrity change his name for a day to "79 Cent" — the pricepoint of one of its value meals — and earn $10,000 for the charity of his choice.
The gangsta star has sued for trademark infringement in federal court, and Taco Bell's lawyers are counter-blathering in the press. The marketing blogosphere is ripping with analyses ranging from the utterly brilliant to the foolishly stupid.
So which is it? A bright bulb publicity stunt in which everyone wins, or a mistake that'll backfire (whether on the company, for dreaming it up, or on 50 Cent, for taking it so seriously)?
I think it's a winner, however bluntly contrived the strategy might have been. Taco Bell can wax poetic about its brand but the reality is that the price is a key driver of sales. So getting that information out to people is a key, if not the key, purpose of its outbound marketing.
The faux letter, and 50 Cent's willingness to bite at the bait, accomplished that and more. Irrespective of how the lawsuit gets resolved, nobody can even reference it without mentioning the price thing. Taco Bell gets its point across, and 50 Cent gets to posture about defending his own brand...which gets him the added visibility he wants with his own target customers.
They're not in it together, but they're in it together. In publicity stunts like this, everyone wins, and the money involved will likely be anything but small change.