Published April 26, 2011
Taco Bell says it’s got beef, in more ways than one.
The restaurant is demanding an apology from the law firm that brought a recently dismissed lawsuit alleging the fast-food chain misled consumers about the content of its beef -- and says it’s even considering legal action against the firm.
The “Would it kill you to say you’re sorry?” campaign, which included full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today and numerous local market newspapers, followed an announcement from Alabama law firm Beasley Allen last week saying they dropped the class-action suit after “changes in marketing and product disclosure were made" by Taco Bell.
The Taco Bell ads refute that statement, saying the firm voluntarily withdrew the suit despite there being “no changes to our products or ingredients, no changes to our advertising, no money exchanged, no settlement agreement. ”
“We hope the voluntary withdrawal of this lawsuit receives as much public attention as when it was filed,” the ad says. “As for the lawyers who brought this suit: You got it wrong, and you’re probably feeling pretty bad right about now. But you know what always helps? Saying to everyone, ‘I’m sorry.’ C’mon, you can do it!”
But despite the ad campaign, the lawsuit’s dismissal hasn’t received nearly as much attention as when it was filed, and the law firm has yet to respond to it.
“They were very available and very outspoken when the lawsuit was filed. Now you can’t find them; you can’t talk to anyone. No one will return calls,” Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed told FoxNews.com.
Helen M. Taylor, Beasley Allen’s public relationship coordinator, told FoxNews.com, “we don’t have a comment” when asked about the contradictory statements in the Taco Bell ads and the law firm’s original statement on why it dropped the lawsuit.
“From the inception of this case, we stated that if Taco Bell would make certain changes regarding disclosure and marketing of its 'seasoned beef' product, the case could be dismissed,” Attorney Dee Miles said in the statement. “As a result of the lawsuit, changes in marketing and product disclosure were made by the company, allowing us to dismiss the case.”
The press release that included that quote has since been removed from the site.
When asked, Taylor said she would send it to FoxNews.com, but instead responded the next day with an email saying, “I will not be able to send the original release regarding the Taco Bell lawsuit being resolved. ”
Creed said that’s because Miles' claim on why the suit was dropped is “absolutely false.”
Civil Attorney Angel Reyes said based on court documents and the public statements made on both sides of the case, it’s clear that “what happened is Taco Bell proved its meat was a beef product and not the amalgamation the lawsuit accused it of.”
“In class-action cases, there is usually a ‘race to the Court House’ and the first law firm that files gets the headlines and oftentimes becomes the ‘lead’ law firm and that ultimately equals the most attorney’s fees,” Reyes said. “…that firm should have done its homework and clearly didn't.”
Still, Creed said, the bad publicity garnered by the suit has done significant damage.
“At our earnings call, David Novak, our chairman, was quite clear that we started the year off really strong and we finished the quarter flat because of the consequence of the beef lawsuit.”
A search on Factiva turned up 35 articles and 22 transcripts that covered the lawsuit during the week following its launch vs. 21 articles and 6 transcripts that covered it during the week following its dismissal.
“The attack part of the story is always sexier…so they’re not going to run the same front page headline or even in the front of the newscast or the front of the newspaper to say, ‘oh yeah, by the way, remember four months ago in January that story about Taco Bell? Well, it actually turns out the lawsuit was dropped,’ and that’s probably the reason Taco Bell had to go on this offensive,” said Mike Bako, vice president and media analyst at Media Training Worldwide.
Still, Bako said even if Taco Bell’s not getting as much coverage, between the ad campaign, the general news of the dismissal and the law firm’s subsequent silence, Taco Bell will come out on top.
“It seeps back into people’s minds ‘Maybe this was a frivolous lawsuit. Maybe Taco Bell was in the right here. Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking about Taco Bell in that way that I felt before, you know what, their food is fine.’ So all of a sudden Taco Bell doesn’t have to put out extra ads to hype themselves” in other areas, Bako said.
“The same way people thought about Taco Bell as just another fast-food company – there they are cutting corners – this law firm now falls into that category of the law firms that represent people that spill hot coffee on themselves from Starbucks -- that frivolous lawsuit type of campaign that so many people are getting fed up from,” he added.
Creed said in the coming weeks the company executives will be meeting with its franchise partners to decide whether to take any legal action against the firm.
“There is a possibility,” he said. “…There’s a lot of people attached to Taco Bell and to so falsely and recklessly put these accusations out there and impact all these people is just so unacceptable. I think the public should be outraged.”