Case Study: Taco Bell Social Media Blackout

5 Min Read. |

To do something new among the clutter of social media, Taco Bell found a unique way to promote and create hype around its mobile app. This case study looks at how the US fast food brand ‘blacked’ out its social media channels to create hype around its mobile app and thus race to the top spot in F&B category in the iOS store.

taco-bell-logo-black-and-white-taco-bell-0-72486About Taco Bell:

  • American fast food restaurant chain serving Tex-Mex cuisine
  • Founded by: Glen Bell in Downey, California
  • Founding Year: 1962
  • CEO: Brian Niccol
  • Headquarters: Irvine, California
  • No. of employees: over 175000
  • No. of locations across the globe: over 6500
  • No. of countries present in: 29
  • Parent Company: Yum! Brands

About The Taco Bell App:

Available on both iOS and Android, the app can be used for dining room orders as well as drive-thru orders. It was developed in partnership with DigitasLBi, Taco Bell’s digital agency. It gives the customers the chance for customization of their orders, right from creating what they want to the time when they want it. Special offers and customer loyalty reward programs are also included in the app. One of the main features of the app is the “Rotate to Reorder”, which gives the customer the option to reorder customized favorites with a simple right swipe.

Background & brief:

After spending close to about two years developing its mobile ordering app, Taco Bell was at risk of lagging behind its competitors like Chipotle and Starbucks. An approximately 2 million new users were needed by the app immediately to catch up to its competitors.

The digital agency DigitasLBi were tasked with finding a way to promote the new mobile ordering app.


At the time of the launch, Taco Bell had a strong social media stature – its Facebook page had 10,637,246 likes, its Instagram account had over 4.8 million followers and more than 1.4 million followers on Twitter. With every major brand trying to make the most noise on social media, a barrage of tweets, Facebook & Tumblr posts would have meant they would be fighting with other brands to win every scrap of attention. Instead they decided to approach the launch in the most novel way – by switching off all its social media channels altogether with just a single post promoting the hashtag #onlyintheapp and a link to the users to download the app, both on iOS and Android.

    wersm-taco-bell-facebook-blackout       taco-bell-isnt-on-instagram-onlyintheapp

The team decided to take the risk and disrupted the social media channels with their ‘Blackout’ campaign, blacking and shutting down all of their social channels and driving fans to the one channel they wanted to activate: the new app. All the social media followers of Taco Bell – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Tumblr, Snapchat,Instagram & Google+, including their website – were greeted with a black screen offering a link to the app.


tumblr thinking out of the limitations of Twitter, the company and its agency worked with Twitter to completely reset its original Twitter presence. Hence there was a @tacobell account which had been reset to zero followers and a new separate, private account called @totallynothere which had its original 1.4 million followers.

“We needed to do something right out of the gate that people would notice, and what better way to notice and drive people to the new way to Taco Bell than the blackout?” said Chris Brandt, Taco Bell’s CMO. “We will continue to be active in social media, we will continue to be disruptive, we’re not walking away from all of those channels where we’ve built up a great discourse with our fans.” (Src: Adweek, Oct 30,2014)

“In the past when we launched products, we focused on the product, we focused on why it’s so good, and we connected that to lifestyle—using social to bring those together,” said Dave Marsey, Managing Director of DigitasLBi San Francisco, Taco Bell’s digital agency behind the campaign. “In this case, what led us to #onlyintheapp is that it’s a new way—these are new ways to experience Taco Bell.” (Src: Adweek, Oct 30,2014)

Success Metrics:

  • Just 24 hours after launch, 75% of all stores had processed a mobile order
  • Individual App download in 2 days – 300000+
  • Impressions in 3 days – 2 billion
  • The app raced to the No.22 spot  from its usual spot of around 60 on the iStore for most downloaded app in the United States, making it bigger than Gmail, Twitter & Google Maps
  • It landed the Taco Bell’s app at the No. 1 spot in the iTunes Store for the Food & Beverage category 


  • Integration is the key ingredient – integrating campaign across all relevant platforms to your Target Audience results in creating the hype and curiosity required to spread the brand message
  • Knowing your Audience – utilizing its strong social media community and by disrupting its regular feed created the engagement and brand ambassadors to needed to create the buzz around the app

Image credits:

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