Home » OPINION » Columns » TODD SMITH — Taco Bell and McDonalds take breakfast war viral; how to write killer news releases and more

TODD SMITH — Taco Bell and McDonalds take breakfast war viral; how to write killer news releases and more

Todd Smith

Todd Smith

Everyone loves some good, old-fashioned brand rivalry. That’s why it’s no surprise that the little back and forth between Taco Bell and McDonald’s has now turned into “The Breakfast Wars” — and has gone viral.

Recently, Taco Bell unveiled its new breakfast menu, which, as Taco Bell CMO Chris Brandt explained to Digiday, was about seven years in the making. Along with fun marketing stunts leading up to the breakfast launch, like its burner phone campaign, Taco Bell couldn’t resist creating even more buzz for itself by taking a jab at McDonald’s — the No. 1 fast food brand, according to the QSR 50, and the reigning fast food breakfast destination with about 25 percent of the fast food breakfast market share.

In three TV spots, Taco Bell trots out real-life humans named Ronald McDonald to give rave reviews of its breakfast items. All of the spots end with the line, “Delicious new breakfast everyone can love, even Ronald McDonald.” The main Ronald McDonald Taco Bell spot already has more than 1.6 million views on YouTube.

In many ways, this is a new era of brand-on-brand social media action — look no further than this year’s Super Bowl, when brands spent most of the evening interacting with each other on Twitter in the hopes of getting consumers’ attention. Naturally, McDonald’s couldn’t just let this potential marketing moment pass without coming up with the right social media response.

The day after Taco Bell released its Ronald McDonald ads, McDonald’s took to Facebook to post its comeback: an image of McDonald’s mascot Ronald McDonald crouching down and petting a chihuahua — a reference to the old Taco Bell mascot — along with the copy, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” and a link to the McDonald’s breakfast menu.

McDonald’s also ran its own breakfast promotion, offering free coffee during breakfast hours. Facebook posts about this promotion have gotten even more engagement than its response to Taco Bell. For example, a Facebook post about the breakfast coffee promotion on March 30 got more than 66,300 likes and more than 6,350 shares.

Both brands have benefited from this so-called “Breakfast War.” According to Topsy, Taco Bell experienced a big spike in Twitter mentions the day of its breakfast menu launch (March 27) and its “Ronald McDonald” ads. And McDonald’s saw a bit of a bump following its comeback post (March 28.)


Tips on Writing Killer News Releases

Think of a husband whose wife asks him to tighten a loosened screw or jump into a new project around the house.

Rather than go down to the basement to rummage about in the toolkit, the guy would use a butter knife from the cutlery drawer. The knives got dinged, the screw was never tight enough, and mom was unhappy.

“The news release is basically the butter knife of the PR writers’ toolkit,” said Michael Long, who is director of writing at MPS/PRCC at Georgetown University. “They end up dragging it out for everything in the world, and most of the time it’s a poor choice.”

In a Ragan video titled, “Press releases: Create a killer pitch that grabs the media every time,” Long offers a format that he says works for every organization: government, political campaigns, corporations, celebrity publicity, nonprofits. “You name it, this will work,” he said.

There’s a catch, though. You can’t use the news release like a broom to sweep all ideas off your desk and get your boss or client off your back. These catch-all announcements are part of why these type news releases have such a bad reputation among reporters and bloggers.

Here are some tips:

1. Remember that nobody cares.

“I always imagine that the idea I’m pitching is the least attractive for an obscure organization on a topic that nobody wants to hear,” Long said.

It’s a good mental exercise. It forces you to strive to find an interesting angle. Long used to ghostwrite, and most clients were way more interested in themselves than everybody else could ever be. The same is true for your news release.

Face it – journalists aren’t nearly as impressed in your new hair gel/toboggan wax as your bosses are. They seldom are moved to tears by the golden phrases that trip from your tongue. Just tell them what your product, event, or service has to offer the reader.

2. Keep your goal in mind.

The purpose of a news release isn’t to make your executives happy by touting minor product developments that no reporter would ever cover. You should treat a news release as a purposeful document with a single goal: to elicit interest or a call back from a reporter.

“I want someone to read this … and then I want them to pick up the phone or send me an email and say, ‘Tell me more,’” Long said.

3. Consider ‘do’ vs. ‘applaud’ news releases.

There are two styles of news release, which Long labels “Do vs. Applaud.” Either your organization did something and is bragging about it, or you are applauding something – possibly someone else’s achievement – so you can “bask in reflected glory.” Think of a nonprofit’s endorsement of a bill offered in Congress.

So as you do your pre-writing thinking, also consider which kind of news release this is, and how it resonates with the intended audience.

4. Fit it all on one page.

Every news release should fit on an 8 1/2 -by-11 sheet of paper, according to Long. Better yet, don’t fill the sheet, unless there is important news to share. This is not a place for an essay on your event or product. Write short paragraphs – four lines maximum. Use lots of white space.

The point of a news release isn’t to give them everything. It’s a hook to lure them into a story, trend piece or social media post.

5. List real contacts up top.

Long offers a helpful template for a news release. Some of it may seem like common sense, but a reminder is needed, given the number of organizations that distribute badly structured news releases.

Start with a contact name, phone number, and e-mail address. This is not the place for the name of your narcissistic CEO, unless he plans to field reporters’ calls personally.

“The reporter just wants to know who to talk to,” Long said.

6. Be direct in your headline.

Consider: “Headline: Client Does Something.”

The client usually wants its name up front. This solves that problem. Also, this style of headline deals right away with the “Guess what” aspect.

Obscure your message with wordplay or a witty surprise, and you’re only delaying the moment when journalists find out what this is all about. Tell them up front and immediately.

7. Remember the long game.

The pitch is a long game. If you begin to deliver straightforward news releases, journalists “will understand that’s how you do business,” Long said. “You’re an honest broker. You talk directly to them. Over time, that adds up.” It’s all about cultivating solid relationships so that when a journalist is working on a story, they will think of you as a needed expert source.


Broken Mic| President Obama’s Touchdown Dance On Obamacare

President Obama should have been flagged for excessive celebration recently when he held a Rose Garden news conference to announce that there were 7.1 million enrollees for Obamacare. In the midst of all the pomp and circumstance, and patting on the back, the President missed one important point, and engaged in some very fuzzy – and suspect – math. Yes, more than 7 million enrollees is an impressive number, but what was left out of all the rah-rah and cheering was that 6 million people lost their coverage and were forced onto the exchanges. That’s not triumph – its message manipulation. It’s like putting a band-aid on a hemorrhaging wound. In fact there are so many Band-Aid moments to this health care mess that it’s troubling at best. For this most recent celebration, President Obama gets this week’s Broken Mic.

Each week, The Spin Cycle will bestow a Golden Mic Award to the person, group or company in the court of public opinion that best exemplifies the tenets of solid PR, marketing and advertising – and those who don’t. Stay tuned – and step-up to the mic! And remember … Amplify Your Brand!

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.



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About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.