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Taco Bell reigns ‘supreme’ among traditional fast food chains in millennial patronage

A photo from Taco Bell's Facebook page promoting its customization options.-(TACO BELL / FACEBOOK)

In a swift turn of events, Taco Bell has been leading the pack among traditional fast food chains in patronage while the rest are seeing a sharp decline (but then again, are we really surprised?). Despite having been a punchline for many years, the not-quite-so-Mexican food outlet has built sort of a dedicated cult following by generally knowing,…Mostly, that means millennials.

If you’ve been following this blog at all, this isn’t news. I’ve developed a weird habit of writing about Taco Bell just before lunchtime. It explains why I was so interested when I saw an article from Business Insider that (vaguely) detailed Pizza Hut’s issues courting the millennial demographic.

Why is this so interesting? Well, Pizza Hut is, like Taco Bell, a subsidiary of Yum Brands, who also owns Kentucky Fried Chicken. The question is: How could one arm of the company be enjoying such success while the other flounders and continues to post losses?

Oddly enough, Pizza Hut’s problem has been Taco Bells saving grace: its focus on millennials.

In 2014, the Pizza Chain launched its biggest-ever brand overhaul and has seen little to no return on that investment.

“We obviously have not been happy with the performance of the relaunch of Pizza Hut,” said Greg Creed, CEO Yum Brands.

This is where Creed identified the brand’s mistakes: a mono-fixation on millennials.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t been as effective as we’ve liked with our marketing and need to balance its appeal to millennials with mainstream pizza customers.”

They’re not alone. McDonald’s has been making headlines regarding their financial woes, even going so far as to close locations. McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook has identified a problem similar with that of Pizza Hut with a slightly different twist.

Easterbrook stated that going forward, McDonalds will do “less sweeping talk of millennials as if they are one single group with shared attitudes.”

Given that realization, I’m going to pretend that Easterbrook reads this blog as regularly as I write about Taco Bell because I’ve been railing against attempts to homogenize an entire generation since we launched Millennial Minded just about one year ago.

In my first piece for the blog, I quoted Kierkegaard, who said, “If you label me, you negate me.” Social media has made it so every millennial can hang their hat on their own identity. To come at them as if they’re one large mesh of wallets runs contrary to their entire worldview. The perplexing thing is that, for the millions of dollars these companies spend on market research (or simply waking up and existing in the world as human beings), this wasn’t obvious.

That’s why Taco Bell has been able to attract its devoted base of millennial consumers. By embracing the general lifestyle by allowing customers to make just about any customization to their menu items (however absurd, really) or embracing mobile technology by creating an app that allows customers to order online and also having a really killer Twitter account, Taco Bell has been able to add value to its brand without (explicitly) pandering to millennials with artisan ingredients (such as Pizza Hut) or trying to cast one giant net on the whole generation (McDonald’s).

Better luck next time, folks.

ALSO ON THE NJBIZ “MILLENNIAL MINDED” BLOG:

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Sanders is locking in millennials one AMA, tweet at a time

To book or not to book: Millennials grapple with the existential, fundamental hows and whys of self-help

Andrew Sheldon
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