The Taco War Rages On

The Taco War Rages On

Share this:

Publicity stunt or legal battle? Or, perhaps, a little of both. In case you’ve been too busy over the past week to track the battle antics. Here’s a brief summary. Taco John’s trademarked the term “Taco Tuesday” back in 1989. Taco Bell is now taking legal action to invalidate the trademark so all taco-selling brands can use it.

NBA all-star Lebron James got into the act and voiced his support for Taco Bell’s effort.

According to Axios, Taco John’s has nearly 400 restaurants in 23 states. Taco Bell has more than 7,000 locations.

Taco Bell’s petition to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is based on the belief that “‘Taco Tuesday’ should belong to all who make, sell, eat, and celebrate tacos.”

Like Bandaids and Kleenex, some brands become seemingly generic terms once appropriated by consumers.

Taco Bell has engaged the support of its loyal (and almost fanatical) fan base and has even set up a petition with almost 2,500 signatures as of this writing.

At first glance, one may believe that this use of our legal system is frivolous. But, from a marketing perspective, it may be a bit genius.

The “underdog” brand (Taco John’s) builds awareness for its name and creativity in coining and protecting the phrase. And Taco Bell has a legit reason to marshall the support of its loyal diner base, garnering media exposure and online dialogue.

Both brands are turning lemons into lemonade (or, in this case, tomatoes into salsa). Bringing a celebrity in to take sides on the battleground is something that the larger company (in this case, Taco Bell) can afford. James is an investor in Blaze Pizza, so he clearly supports successful multi-location brands.

Lessons we can learn from this legal battle are:

  • If you have a great concept, it can ultimately become “the people’s property.” Until the war broke out, we didn’t even realize that the term was trademarked!
  • PR stunts (complete with celebrity involvement) can be a clever way to build brand awareness and fan support, even though it will suck up tax dollars with a government agency.
  • Even the “victim” can benefit in cases like this. Taco John’s is getting a great opportunity for media awareness without spending a penny on advertising. They will probably, however, have a whopping legal bill if they decide to fight the battle over the long haul.

In the meantime, we can all continue to grab our friends and colleagues every Tuesday,  fill up on margaritas and crunchy spicy treats, and pretend it’s just another nameless day of the week.



Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in, the New York Times and Forbes.