Whoever devised the name of the Taco Bell Drive-Thru Diet deserves a place in the marketing hall of fame, right next to the dudes who conjured up the Crystal Clear Amoco Ultimate premium gasoline (“better for the environment”!) and the Cheerios heart-healthy campaign (“Clinically PROVEN to Help Reduce Cholesterol!”).

It’s the phrase “Drive-Thru” that’s pure genius. That simple hyphenated word triggers a dopamine reaction faster than a line of high-grade coke. Think of all the many pleasurable associations Americans have with the drive-thru: hamburgers, childhood, convenience, french fries, comfort, soft drinks, Ronald McDonald, music, summer, chocolate shakes, practical jokes, Jack Black, and baristas in bikinis.  

That’s advertising gold right there, even if Taco Bell is shamelessly searching for its own iconic Jared to trot across these fair states to promote the “benefits” of the chain’s Fresco menu. (By the way, you have to admire the cojones of a so-called Mexican chain for using a word of Italian-German origin in its marketing.) 

Well, it’s pretty clear, despite Taco Bell’s mad pulling of the levers, Wizard of Oz-style, that poor Christine Dougherty is no Jared Fogle. Dougherty lost a mere 54 pounds (compared to Fogle’s 235) by reducing her intake to a near starvation diet of 1,250 calories a day, which is a good 400 calories less than what the Mayo Clinic recommends for an inactive woman, age 30, who is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 130 pounds.

Dougherty could down another Fresco burrito supreme a day and still have cals to spare.

It’s also pretty obvious that the Taco Bell Drive-Thru Diet is no diet at all. It says so right in the fine print of the ad.

Here are two of several disclaimers slipped into the bottom of the screen during Taco Bell’s commercial:

  • “150-340 calories. Not a low calorie food.” (Presumably, they’re talking about the seven items on the Fresco Menu.)
  • “Taco Bell Drive-Thru Diet is not a weight loss program. Pay attention to total calorie and fat intake and regular exercise.”

In other words, pay no attention to the message of this commercial. According a recent article in Advertising Age, the Drive-Thru Diet idea has seriously backfired for Taco Bell. Check out this pertinent section of the story:

According to Zeta Buzz, which mines blogs, message boards and social media postings to measure buzz about a subject, Taco Bell’s buzz rating has dropped six points after launching the diet. While volume of posts increased 44%, the tone has become more negative.

Prior to launch, posts were 73% positive, putting it ahead of beloved chains like Subway, Wendy’s and Domino’s. Words associated with the brand online were “love,” “delicious,” and “favorite.” Postings are now 67% positive, putting Taco Bell behind White Castle, Blimpie and Arby’s, which rank among the category’s lower tier. Now three of the words most closely associated with Taco Bell and its campaign have been “fat,” “stop,” and “joke.”

Somehow I don’t see CBS doing a story, years from now, about Dougherty turning into the Taco Bell Gal.