The PR strategy followed by both Taco Bell and Taco John’s seems to be from the same playbook and mostly focuses on impressions rather than substance. Start with the fact that both fired their produce suppliers, although neither is accused of doing anything wrong, then they replaced them with other firms, although they did not articulate any higher standards they would expect these new firms to meet. Then both used their daughters as fodder for their PR wars:
First the President of Taco Bell used his daughter to publicize the chain’s recovery:
In an open letter to customers published in the USA Today, The New York Times and other newspapers, Taco Bell President Greg Creed said he would support the creation of a coalition of food suppliers, competitors, government and other experts to explore ways to safeguard the food supply chain and public health.
The executive underscored the safety mantra in media interviews, telling Associated Press Television that he had assured his daughter, a college freshman in New York, and her friends that Taco Bell food is safe.
“I can assure you, I would not tell my daughter that unless I absolutely believed it,” Creed said.
Then the President and CEO of Taco John’s used his daughter to the same purpose:
Paul Fisherkeller, president and CEO of Taco John’s, was recently quoted: “My daughter called and said, Dad I am going to Taco John’s with friends,” said Fisherkeller, “Is it safe to go there?” and I said “Dear, of course it is!”
Unfortunately, the PR geniuses behind all these things have short memories. For to anyone involved in food safety, this trotting around of daughters reminds one of John Gummer, then Agriculture Minister in the U.K., who trotted out his daughter, Cordelia, and had the four-year-old little girl eat a hamburger for the gathered television cameras to assure all citizens that beef was “perfectly safe” and there was no need to be concerned about Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) or any relationship to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Since we now know that John Gummer was wrong, that there was real danger and that the Minister was, unknowingly, putting his daughter at risk, the episode is remembered as a vivid illustration of the need to separate PR fluff from substance.
The mistrust of the government that focused around Mr. Gummer’s action resonates to this day:
The burger episode turned him into a figure of fun and led to a lasting public mistrust of government pronouncement on food scares — notably Tony Blair’s reassurances on genetically-modified food.
The decision of both Taco Bell and Taco John’s to use their executives’ daughters in this matter isn’t just a matter of poor taste, it is an obfuscation. It is an attempt to provide a reassurance that isn’t justified by the facts.
If the problem was caused by a supplier, as is suspected, and no changes have been made to the standards by which supplies are acquired, why is it suddenly “safe” today and was “unsafe” yesterday?
I’m betting one of these daughters will wind up like John Robbins, the Baskin-Robbins heir who rejected it all to pursue other values.
Is there not some irony that the British Minister’s daughter is named Cordelia — from Shakespeare’s King Lear, which revolves around filial ingratitude?
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child!
Perhaps those who use their children as props for their own benefit shall yet learn.