PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — Taco Bell is opening a hotel — sort of — to give it an edge over other fast food chains.
For five nights in August, Taco Bell is taking over a Palm Springs hotel and turning it into The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort in Palm Springs. The Bell will feature new and traditional Taco Bell menu items, a Taco Bell gift shop, Taco Bell nail art and more.
Stunts like this one give fast food chains a chance to set themselves apart in a crowded market, where value meals may not be enough. Ideally, they raise brand awareness and create buzz around the brand on social channels.
Domino’s promised to help cities pave their potholes. For Mother’s Day, KFC let customers create a custom video for mom — featuring shirtless “Chickendales” dancers. Arby’s offered customers a 24-hour-long Hawaiian vacation for $6. Hoegaarden, the Belgian beer brand owned by Anheuser-Busch, raffled off a spring break trip to Belgium. The list goes on.
Promotions like the Bell can give consumers a reason to “think of us as a cool and innovative brand,” Matt Prince, senior manager of public relations and brand experience at Taco Bell, told CNN Business. He called it a way “to ensure that Taco Bell has a really special place in culture.”
For Taco Bell, the hotel is a way to get people “immersed” in a Taco Bell experience — and share the love online.
Most chain restaurants throughout the country are basically the same: With a few exceptions, visiting a Taco Bell in New York City is a pretty similar experience to visiting a Taco Bell in, say, Los Angeles. That consistency can be a good thing. But it also means that that consumers don’t get much of an opportunity to experience something different.
Starbucks is tackling that problem with its elaborate Roasteries, massive stores that include alcohol bars, on-premise coffee roasters and casks, as well as special, pricey menu items. Starbucks has five Roasteries globally, and plans to open a sixth.
For Taco Bell, promotions like The Bell can help give customers something different without putting pressure on franchisees.
When companies introduce new menu items, franchise employees have to learn a new recipe without slowing down — at a time when the new item is driving extra traffic to locations. Off-menu promotions can create interest in the brand.
Plus, a Taco Bell resort would look great on Instagram.
Visitors at the hotel can act as unofficial brand ambassadors on social.
The hotel will feature menu items that many consumers may not be aware of, like its breakfast items. People who stay at the hotel will see them, and — if they post about them on social platforms — share the news with others as well.
Chipotle employed a similar tactic when it expanded its rewards program nationwide. The chain gave out free cash on Venmo in a bid to raise awareness for the program, while entering into people’s social media feeds.
“Venmo, to us, is becoming an untapped social network,” Curt Garner, the company’s chief technology officer, told CNN Business at the time.
In addition to spreading the word about its offerings, social chatter is also a source of ideas for Taco Bell. If you tweeted about a Taco Bell Hotel, Taco Bell may have seen it and taken that into account.
“It could be just one tweet in a sea of a million that’s like, ‘This is interesting, is there something more to this?'” Prince said.
With the hotel, it was “a buildup of things over the course of the past couple of years,” rather than a specific idea or request, said Alec Treffers, communication and brand experience senior specialist for Taco Bell.
But for other Taco Bell initiatives, like opening a space for weddings at a Taco Bell Cantina in Las Vegas, social insight was key. “With weddings, we did see people using sauce packets to propose to their significant other,” Treffers said.
Taco Bell will start taking reservations for the hotel next month. The hotel will open on August 9.