Taking Liberty : Taco Bell April Fool’s Ad Causes Stir


Taco Bell Corp.’s tongue-in-cheek claim to have bought the Liberty Bell forced curators of the national symbol to scramble on Monday to ensure angry callers that the nation’s most famous bell hadn’t been co-opted.

The Mexican-style fast food chain used full-page newspaper advertisements Monday--April Fool’s Day--to announce that it had purchased the cracked bell to help reduce the national debt. Taco Bell also quipped that the symbol of liberty was being renamed the “Taco Liberty Bell.”

The Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia, where the bell is on display, was “inundated with calls,” said a harried spokeswoman.


Taco Bell reported that some callers wondered if the company’s sense of humor was cracked.

“To those people who didn’t get the joke, we apologize,” said Taco Bell spokeswoman Amy Sherwood. “But the vast majority of people we talked to today realized that April Fool’s Day is a day for good-natured fun and a little bit of rebellion.”

Taco Bell said the advertisement--while crafted to help build sales--also pointed out the importance of corporate America in helping to preserve national treasures. Taco Bell said it is donating $50,000 to help preserve the historic bell.

The advertisements, part of Taco Bell’s new, $200-million advertising campaign, left a sour taste with some consumers.

“I just don’t think it’s funny,” said Lake Forest retiree Rosemary Bursin, a former history teacher. “It’s tacky, not funny, just tacky.”

Funny or not, Taco Bell’s advertisements stirred up a whole enchilada of free publicity for the fast-food company. And that, marketing experts said, is exactly what the company had in mind when it ran the Liberty Bell advertisements in seven major daily newspapers.

But marketing experts also cautioned that sometimes a corporate sense of humor is best left in check.


“Whenever you do this sort of thing, there’s always the danger that someone’s going to be offended,” said William A. Cohen, a marketing professor at Cal State L.A. “For those of us who live 3,000 miles away from the Liberty Bell, it might be just fine, but to someone whose ancestors fought at Bunker Hill, it might be perceived of in an entirely different fashion.”