Commercial Analysis

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An Ad that is Most Certainly “With the Times.”

with 4 comments

Is there anything actually objectively better about Taco Bell’s new breakfast products, compared with McDonald’s old products? Anything of any significance, at least? No. It’s the same sort of cheap, low-quality, processed food at both restaurants. Why, then, should anyone choose one over the other? There’s pretty much no reason (except for maybe the trivial differences in taste – but even that that wouldn’t be enough to make it a complete, irreversible shift. Rather just a short-term desire – which could easily be replaced by it’s opposite the next time).

Yet, despite all of this, this commercial claims that there’s a reason to change. What is the reason? The fact that eating McDonald’s breakfast products “proves” that your thinking is stale (and not just about fast food breakfasts, but about virtually everything. That you’re a stale person). What this commercial does, essentially, is one of two things: either it exploits a person’s legitimate concern about being a stale person (by making him feel as though changing this one thing constitutes changing everything which needs to be changed, and therefore does him a disservice by undermining his motivation to change) – or it preys upon his illegitimate concerns about being stale (by making him continue to feel – and probably even more intensely – as though simply because he’s “not with the times”, he is therefore somehow wrong to have the tastes and preferences that he does).

Advertising is supposed to speak to the rationality within people. It is supposed to convey information which helps them discover and/or meet their legitimate, rational, objective needs and desires. It is not supposed to pander to their pretentiousness (about “changing” when they’re really not, in this case), or exacerbate their irrationality and confused emotions. Even though this commercial may cause a (superficial) quid pro quo transaction to occur, taken as a whole, the psychological damage done to the viewer constitutes a net loss on his part (the acquisition of some kind of breakfast item notwithstanding).

Why do modern American businesses engage in such destructive forms of commerce? Because today’s economy is a mixed economy, and therefore success must only be measured in quarters; not years or decades. The macroeconomic situation is subject not to timeless economic laws or major scientific and technological advancements, but rather the whims of politicians – and therefore the short-term is the only thing that can be considered fully real. With that in mind, it is prudent for a business to do whatever it can – no matter how nefarious – to make as much as it can, as quickly as it can.

“When you have made evil the means of survival, do not expect men to remain good. Do not expect them to stay moral and lose their lives for the purpose of becoming the fodder of the immoral. Do not expect them to produce, when production is punished and looting rewarded. Do not ask, “Who is destroying the world?” You are.” – Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged


Written by commercialanalysis

April 23, 2014 at 7:39 am

Posted in Food and Drink

4 Responses

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  1. “Advertising is supposed to speak to the rationality within people”

    Are you kidding me? That isn’t what advertising has been about for a very long time. For at least a century, the vast majority of advertising beckoning Americans to purchase soft drinks, food, brand name products, clothing and movie tickets have been INHERENTLY fallacious.

    Why, the very study of advertising will lead you through the most overused tactics in this industry – appeal to authority (Obama uses our pencils – so should you!), ad hominems, appeal to emotions, and probably the most common, the bandwagon fallacy.

    Notwithstanding, I think Taco Bell’s newest line of ads is really a very good one, because it seems to me they parody these old fallacies. Take the ‘Ronald McDonald’ commercial – this would be an example of the appeal to authority fallacy IF Taco Bell had meant it seriously, but obviously they didn’t. This commercial is mostly useful because of the funny factor – everybody knows these people don’t represent the actual restaurant McDonalds.

    The commercial posted here, with a guy harking back to the 1980s when he eats an egg McMuffin doesn’t succeed, I argue, because people are actually going to watch it and think ‘Hmm! I need to get with the times!’

    Rather, it is the complete silliness of the suggestion that somehow the breakfast food you eat changes what era you are living in, and the sentimentality that the commercial will invoke in anybody old enough to remember the 1980s (probably the majority of Taco Bell’s demographic right now).

    It reaches people on a personal level, makes them smile, and remember Taco Bell fondly. Internet Explorer recently pulled a similar tactic for its demographic of “90s babies” with its “Child of the 90s” commercial (

    The common thread I find in these commercials is not a guilt trip, or an attempt to actually convince people of the fallacies being used, but a good sense of humor, and more of an attempt at camaraderie by the companies making them. Personally, I liked both of these commercials – Taco Bell’s convinced me to try the A.M Crunchwrap, which I ended up really liking, and the one by Internet Explorer convinced me to give it a try – and what do you know? It really did grow up.


    April 30, 2014 at 10:40 am

    • Your entire comment is a straw man. You quoted me where I assert what advertising is supposed to be. Not what it is, or what it has been for a long time. It doesn’t matter if advertising is now, and has been for awhile, “attempts at camaraderie” – that’s not what it should be. You need to provide me with your own theory of what it should be (and no, “whatever people want it to be” or “whatever works” are not theories). The only other thing I will say is that obviously (as documented in my post) I understand that Taco Bell doesn’t mean their message seriously, but the commercial works precisely because they know that people will take it seriously nevertheless. That’s the psychological trick (which is common these days), and it is being used precisely because Taco Bell’s product isn’t superior to McDonald’s (at least not in any objectively significant way). That was the entire point of my post – which you missed.


      April 30, 2014 at 11:00 am

      • Before I proceed, I would like to say that, while I did dispute the content of your post, I DO appreciate your blog, and the thoughtfulness you put into analyzing commercials. This is something very few people take the time to do, and I am glad that you are doing it.

        But of course, any attempt at philosophy invites dialogue. And so, in response to your comment –

        You cannot complain that I have committed the straw man fallacy, for I do not think I misrepresented you.

        Rather, you have misunderstood the intent of my comment. I am intending to say the following:

        1. The flaw you are finding in Taco Bell’s ad is a flaw that you are going to find in 99.99% of all advertisement today, and in the past many decades. This flaw has come to define commercials. Therefore, it seems that accusing Taco Bell of a generic fallacy (that they are not speaking to the rationality inside of people) is not really useful.

        To me, it seems very much the same thing as a man who is critiquing the buildings in a town made out of bricks. He comes to a building, points to it, and complains “This building is made of bricks!”

        It might be valid for him to complain that the entire town shouldn’t be made out of bricks, but it seems completely pointless to do this on a building-by-building basis.

        2. I dispute that “the commercial works precisely because they know that people will take it seriously nevertheless”. Therefore, I have not missed the point of your post – you have missed the point of my comment.

        I think that people neither take the commercial seriously, nor did Taco Bell mean for it to be taken seriously.

        Now, I cannot prove anything regarding Taco Bell’s motives, any more than you can. And I don’t really think that matters. What we could do is conduct a survey to find out just how many people actually felt out of date when they saw this commercial. My bet is that very, very few people felt that way – I think a vast majority of them probably DID feel nostalgic, and amused, which are good emotions that I think Taco Bell probably DID mean to convey.

        I have pointed you to another example in recent advertising which employs the same tactic, namely, Internet Explorer’s “Child of the 90s” commercial.

        Now, IF it comes to a debate about whether or not advertising MUST inherently speak to the reason within a person, we definitely have a fundamental disagreement.

        I do not think that McDonalds, for example, could give its viewers a perfectly logical reason to prefer its food over Wendy’s.

        Advertising, rather, should be seen as an art-form, as well as a means of communication. Deception in advertising is both unethical, and unacceptable – but it is possible to create an ad which speaks to a viewer in terms of emotion rather than logic.


        May 2, 2014 at 1:54 am

      • 1. There absolutely is a point in “complaining on a building-to-building basis.” People do not learn except in a hierarchical way. If they first do not understand why one “building” is made of “bricks,” and why that is wrong, they will never understand why it is wrong for an entire “town” to be made of them. If they hear a broad statement like “this town is made of bricks, and that’s wrong”, it most likely won’t even register (because, given their cognitive context, it’s disconnected from experience and therefore arbitrary) – and even if it does register, and even if they do accept it, it will amount to indoctrination; not education.

        2. The reason why I say that “the commercial works precisely because Taco Bell knows that people will take it seriously nevertheless” is because the effect it is intended to have amounts to the exact same thing as if they did. I realize that people are not going to literally take it seriously (who would? That most likely non-existent person who literally has been eating nothing but Egg Mcmuffins for the last 30 years? Who has made literally no changes in his aesthetic values?) – but that doesn’t change the fact that most people might as well have taken it literally.

        What I am saying is this: even though there is virtually no one who is as “stuck in his ways” as the character in this commercial is, there are plenty of people who are to some extent – and who, for that reason alone, think that there’s something wrong with them. When they see this commercial, that is what is going to be touched on within them. It isn’t going to be nostalgia, or a sense of amusement about how silly the character in the commercial is. It’s going to be a sense of “oh my god, that’s me, basically. That’s probably how people see me – and I don’t even realize it. Look at all of the cool things I’ve been missing out on. I need to make a change.”

        Now, maybe such people actually do appear to others to be somewhat like the character in this commercial, and maybe the actually have been missing out on new and cool things, and maybe they do actually need to make a change, but that isn’t what Taco Bell cares about. All it cares about is making them feel as though those things are true (without having first thought about them) so that people will make an impulsive decision to “change themselves” by trying a new breakfast product (specifically a Taco Bell breakfast product). Taco Bell doesn’t care that this action doesn’t actually change people (at least not in any significant way), and it doesn’t care that people are lying to themselves by thinking it does change them (ie: that they’re trying to have it both ways – by making the “change”, while also retaining the “ways that they’re stuck in”). All Taco Bell cares about is making the sale – through whatever mean necessary.

        The only other possible interpretation of this commercial is equally insidious. It’s meant for the segment of today’s population that is not “stuck in it’s ways.” The segment that is constantly “keeping up with the times.” For this group, the character in the commercial is a caricature of anyone and everyone who isn’t as “fashionable” and “hip” as they are. It’s how they see everyone else, essentially. It’s how they think that everyone else basically is (and any changes that real peope who aren’t “hip” happen to make are just accidental and insincere, since only they are the truly fashionable and hip people. The people who are fashionable and hip on the inside).

        This commercial is meant to flatter such people. It’s meant to make them feel good about being fashionable and hip regardless of whether or not the changes they are constantly making are worthwhile or not. When they see this commerical, such people are expected to tell themselves “Oh my god, look at that loser. Doesn’t he have any sense of style. That’s the opposite of me. I make changes like that all of the time. It’s who I am. In fact, just to prove it to myself, I’m going to go and try that new breakfast menu at Taco Bell.”

        Again, maybe such people actually do appear to other people as nothing like the character in the commercial, and maybe it actually is a good thing that they are continuously embracing new things, but that isn’t what Taco Bell cares about. All it cares about is making them feel as though their approach to life is good (without having first thought about it) so that they will make an impulsive decision to go “be themselves” (ie: prove to themselves who they really really are) by buying a new Taco Bell breakfast item.


        I don’t agree that advertising should be seen as an art-form, as well as a means of communication. Can advertising also be artistic? Of course, but only as a secondary, supplementary consideration. Artistic elements should never replace, nor even be equal to, the informational elements in a commercial.

        Finally, I find it curious as to why you would appreciate my blog, and be glad that I’m taking the time to analyze commercials, when, at the end of your comment, you say that advertising should be seen as both a means of a communication as well as an art form. If you find it acceptable to appeal to viewers’ “emotions rather than logic”, then why would you consider it a good thing to analyze particular commercials to see if they’re philosophically valid (ie: logical)? If making someone feel a certain way – regardless of how – sells a product, and if that’s perfectly acceptable (because that’s the flaw that has “come to define advertising”), then what good could come from analyzing the underlying philosophy of a commercial? Under that conception of advertising, doing so is a complete waste of time.


        May 2, 2014 at 6:23 am

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