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Taco Bell promotion is off base to some

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  • Robert Schmidt
    http://www.boston.com/ae/tv/articles/2007/10/27/taco_bell_promotion_is_off_ base_to_some/ Taco Bell promotion is off base to some By Joanna Weiss, Globe Staff
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 30, 2007
      http://www.boston.com/ae/tv/articles/2007/10/27/taco_bell_promotion_is_off_
      base_to_some/

      Taco Bell promotion is off base to some

      By Joanna Weiss, Globe Staff | October 27, 2007

      We're accustomed, by now, to unsubtle product placement on TV. We accept
      the intrusion of Nissans into every other frame of NBC's "Heroes." We don't
      flinch when Fox's "American Idol" set shares its color scheme with a Coke
      bottle. We accept that every statistic uttered during a sports broadcast is
      sponsored by some company or other.

      So it says a lot about the unexpected reach of Taco Bell's "Steal a Base,
      Steal a Taco" promotion - and the fervor with which Fox Sports has embraced
      it - that so many people would find this one so dirty. So Orwellian.
      Whether it is or not.

      If you've been watching baseball this week, the details of the giveaway are
      probably emblazoned in your brain, like multiplication tables or the Giant
      Glass theme song. But for the benefit of everyone else - and Taco Bell, of
      course - here goes: After the first stolen base of the series, the chain
      promised to give a free beef taco to anyone who asked. (The catch: You have
      to go from 2 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday.)

      Jacoby Ellsbury did the deed in the fourth inning Thursday night. And not
      long afterward, Fox Sports played this conversation, recorded a day earlier
      from the Red Sox dugout, between Ellsbury and shortstop Royce Clayton:

      Clayton: Hey, you like Taco Bell?

      Ellsbury: (nods)

      Clayton: You know, if somebody steals a base in the World Series, everybody
      in America gets a Taco Bell free . . . taco.

      Ellsbury: Everybody in America?

      Clayton: Everybody in America gets a free taco.

      Could you repeat that one more time? Soon, conspiracy theories were
      swirling - especially since Clayton had also been caught talking up the
      tacos with center fielder Coco Crisp. ("You could go to every Taco Bell in
      the world and say that 'I ain't got my taco!' " he had said. "How they
      gonna know?") Announcers Tim McCarver and Joe Buck seemed to chat up Taco
      Bell at every opportunity. And on Thursday, Fox Sports announcer Chris
      Myers conducted a fawning interview with Taco Bell honcho Rob Savage, who
      said, with an impressively straight face, that this giveaway was "for our
      customers."

      "A World Series game broke out in the middle of a Taco Bell commercial,"
      grumbled CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell, who calculated the
      free advertising for Taco Bell: $8 million over two games.

      It was strictly good fortune on Taco Bell's part, insists Fox Sports senior
      producer Pete Macheska, who chatted by phone while awaiting his bags at the
      Denver airport yesterday. Yes, Taco Bell's sponsorship carried certain
      obligations, he said: The announcers had to talk about the promotion, show
      a logo, and interview Savage in the stands after Ellsbury's stolen base.

      But Clayton, he said, was an unexpected, uncompensated spokesman - a guy
      who happened to be wearing a microphone, and happened to like the Taco Bell
      deal.

      As part of Major League Baseball's contract with Fox Sports, a player or
      coach from one of the teams is miked every night, Macheska said. On
      Wednesday, it was Clayton, who isn't on the World Series roster. He had
      time to ponder the Taco Bell deal. And he talked about it. A lot.

      "He seemed like he was enthralled with this stealing-a-base thing," said
      Macheska, who said Fox collected footage of Clayton talking about Taco Bell
      with pitcher Josh Beckett and other players, including Ellsbury. They
      decided to prepare an Ellsbury clip.

      "We thought, just in case this kid is the guy that steals the base, we will
      have it ready," Macheska said. "We were lucky."

      So was Taco Bell - though you've got to salute the chain for coming up with
      a promotion that's as eye-catching as it is risk-free. Mid-afternoon isn't
      exactly a high-traffic time for the typical fast food restaurant. And odds
      are, most people who wander in for free tacos will buy something else, too.
      (Profit margins are pretty good on 20-ounce cups of soda.)

      It's Clayton who seems the big loser here - shilling for Taco Bell without
      getting a dime. Fox Sports, though, is bearing the brunt of the
      frustration, a signal that viewers might be reaching their limits when it
      comes to accepting the devil's deal that sponsorship entails - or drawing
      lines when the players get involved.

      Using the players to shill for your sponsors - however innocently - seems
      that much more unseemly. And when announcers do it, too, it's no wonder
      that the skeptics have the day.

      We've been trained to accept product placement when we know there's a quid
      pro quo. We understand that the networks have to pay the bills. But given
      the festival of endorsements that every sports game has become, it might
      have been nice for McCarver and Buck to show more restraint. Talk about
      Taco Bell once, if you must. Because you must. But give away publicity like
      so many free tacos, and the viewers will start questioning your motives.
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