Taco Bell Bought the Liberty Bell in a Genius April Fools’ Joke

Apr 2, 2019

Plenty of brands are rolling out clever pranks this year, but the heyday of outlandish product announcements and outrageous partnerships seems to be behind us. In fact, Microsoft’s CMO banned any public jokes this year, citing data that “stunts have limited positive impact and can actually result in unwanted news cycles.”

Regardless, this year’s stunts are unlikely to top one of the greatest (and most effective) April Fools’ Day pranks that took place right here in Philly.

Taco Bell bought the Liberty Bell.

A Historic April Fools’ Day Prank

On April 1 1996, Taco Bell took out full-pages ads in the Philadelphia Inquirer and major newspapers across the country with the headline Taco Bell Buys the Liberty Bell. announcing that it purchased the national historic relic and renamed it the Taco Liberty Bell.

In the mid-90s, the national debt was a major news item. The fast food chain’s prank played on this news hook and poked fun at the ongoing trend of corporate sponsorships.

The joke was a success. All told, the prank cost about $300,000, but rang in $25 million in equivalent advertising and national news coverage. On the first two days of April, Taco Bell sales increased by more than $1 million over the previous year.

Bells Were Ringing

The prank worked because Taco Bell took a calculated risk and committed to the campaign. It didn’t even tell the National Parks Service before it ran the ad. It generated real buzz because there was real uncertainty and outrage, albeit short-lived. Taco Bell put out a press release at noon on April 1 owning up to the joke and announcing a $50,000 donation to help maintain the Liberty Bell.

Lots of marketing efforts start out as big, bold ideas. Taco Bell could easily have watered down the gag in the planning process or soft-peddled the execution. In sticking to its guns, Taco Bell garnered a real reaction that paid off.

Long story short: Memorable marketing demands a little bit of risk. Balancing the risks you’re willing to take with the impact you want to have is key to a memorable campaign that rings true.

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