Taco Bell’s latest creation takes inspiration from its Yum! brands sibling, KFC’s infamous pseudo-sandwich, the Double-Down, in an attempt to create the internet’s new favorite food: a taco with a shell made of fried chicken. What’s more, it cooked up a little controversy to pair with the actual controversy over the fact it might cause some to gag.
The Naked Chicken Chalupa — which made is debut on Wednesday in New York City — is probably a dream come true for those who love both T-Bell’s signature taste and those who would be happy subsisting entirely on chicken tenders. Its debut included some experiential marketing and a strange bit of theater. And it all happened at what can only be described as a taco speakeasy.
Taco Bell built hype around the new dish — “seasoned with Mexican spices,” stuffed with ground beef, lettuce, cheese, and a squirt of creamy avocado ranch — by starting a Facebook event. Users began seeing it in their newsfeeds, thanks to the social network’s targeted ads algorithm that snowballs people start RSVP-ing. The details were intentionally sparse about the location, but Taco Bell eventually sent the address with a cryptic message: “Find the purple refrigerator, open the door.”
As guests arrived at the experience, located in a downtown Manhattan event space, they were ushered into a room straight out of Mad Men. A woman wearing a floral dress and pearls approached, explaining she was there to protest Taco Bell’s “non-traditional” use of poultry and that she was a member of TCFEFCTSWYAH (“The Council for Eating Fried Chicken the Same Way You Always Have”), a group offended by the idea of using fried chicken for chalupa shells instead. The immersive marketing experience might have elicited an eye-roll, but considering the current political climate of the United States, these conservative chicken traditionalists felt apt.
We walked through the purple appliance in the back of the room and into a whole new setting: the elusive speakeasy we were promised. A hostess led us to our table where we were swiftly served the long-awaited Naked Chicken Chalupa and an alcoholic beverage.
The speakeasy was decked out with your typical marketing event staples: free T-shirts, a GIF booth, and event staffers announcing, “If you take any pictures, we’d love for you to hashtag it with #NakedChickenChalupa.” After finishing up our chalupas, we were, unfortunately, unable to share the greasy deliciousness with the outside world. My friend asked for another and was delicately declined. It became clear that it was an event where you try the goods and are expected to bounce. We were directed to an exit: instead of the purple refrigerator, an elevator opened up and spit us out into a New York City side street.
Will I be trying the Naked Chicken Chalupa in stores? Most definitely. Will it be as good as at this ritzy publicity push? Probably not. I’ve experienced the dip in quality with Taco Bell’s Quesalupa, which was seemingly perfected for the Manhattan press event, only to be not as refined when I ordered it in Brooklyn.
The Naked Chicken Chalupa and other creations might simply be marketing gimmicks disguised in tempting shells, but they’re still innovative ventures pushing the envelope when it comes to fast food. Because at the end of the day, whatever they’re selling, somebody’s definitely going to be buying, and with extra Fire Sauce.
And critically, it may finally help us move past the infamy of the Double Down.