Taco Bell’s Lesson In High-Low Branding

It’s a tale on crunchy extremism: On one end there’s dudebros and Doritos Locos Tacos, on the other easy listening and Cantina Bell.

Taco Bell’s Lesson In High-Low Branding

Taco Bell has had an insane year: hiring 15,000 new people, outgrowing KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s. To hear Daniel Gross of the Daily Beast tell it, that surge is due to a “neon-orange, meat-filled miracle taco”–the Nacho Cheese (and increasingly legendary) Doritos Locos Taco, which sold about a million day in 2012.


That’s a lot of taco. So much so that Taco Bell’s parent company, Yum! Brands, saw profits grow by 23%. According to what CMO Brian Niccol told Fast Company last November, that has a lot to do with having customers help tell the tale of the taco, be it via Instagram composited commercials or blasting Taco tweets across Times Square.

And the brand continues the millennial-baiting momentum with another Frito Lay collaboration, the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco, which the New York Daily News described as “surprisingly subtle”–how refined!

The meta-pivot

Still, for all the high fives the brightly shelled tacos are inciting, what’s fascinating is Taco Bell’s simultaneous rebranding and cohort-courting: Having locked up the youngs, they’re now going after the boomer set, recruiting Top Chef Master competitor and Univision star Lorena Garcia to launch the less artery-cloggy Cantina Bell, a subrand with some really killer copy:

Citrus-herb marinated chicken, flavorful black beans, guacamole made from real Hass avocados, roasted corn & pepper salsa, a creamy cilantro dressing, and freshly prepared pico de gallo, all served on a bed of premium Latin rice.

We can be grateful that the guacamole is made from real avocados and that the rice is premium, the kind of up-marketing and under-pricing that has the brand aiming for Chipotle–so much so that hedge fund manager David Einhorn shorted the burrito heavyweight’s stock.

But fret not, Mountain Dew lovers: Just because healthier items are around, Taco Bell hasn’t forgotten your needs–like an afternoon $1 “Happier Hour.” Now both your inner frat boy and soccer mom can party.


What do you think of Taco Bell’s high-low rebranding? Tell us about it in the comments.

Drake Baer covers leadership for Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.

[Taco Pattern: LHF Graphics via Shutterstock]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.