Taco Bell’s top and bottom lines may take a licking after a photo posting that’s sparked a collective groan among consumers.
The photo shows a Taco Bell employee holding a stack of about 25 empty taco shells, while licking them with his tongue.
The photo, which was originally posted on the employee’s Facebook page, has now gone viral—and most likely given Taco Bell a bad case of PR heartburn.
Indeed, the episode is another example of how one boneheaded employee can, in an instant, seriously threaten your brand (and cause a nasty crisis).
Taco Bell was quick to respond.
"We have strict food and handling procedures and zero tolerance for any violations," Taco Bell said in a statement.
The company insists that the franchisee—whose name and location it hasn't revealed—did not serve the taco shells to any customers. "They were used for training only and in the process of being thrown out," the company says.
However, from a PR standpoint, Taco Bell’s statement leaves a lot to be desired, starting with the glaring omission of naming which store the incident took place and whether the employee in question would be fired.
What is more, the episode begs Taco Bell to communicate what it’s going to do in the future to prevent similar episodes (and stop its employees on the front line from using fresh food as their own personal tongue depressor).
Unfortunately, Taco Bell has learned the hard way that the rise of digital communications requires PR execs to be much more vigilant about quality control than during the analog age.
They need to enforce their brand’s social media guidelines, monitor social channels and make sure that employees appreciate that they must live up to corporate standards and, if they don’t, there will be a price to pay.
Remember, never let a crisis go to waste.
Follow Matthew: @mpsjourno1.