Conan, Taco Bell, and Market Research

research on TV

I love it when I see market research featured in late night talk shows.

In January 2015, Conan O’Brien surprised one of his employees by taking him on a field trip to the Taco Bell headquarters in California to receive the Superfan experience.

They met with marketing manager, Katie Garner, who defined the Superfan as a person who eats Taco Bell at least twice a week. (A Superfan may be an example of a persona in a larger segmentation system of their customers.)

In between the inappropriate innuendos and Conan’s teenage humor, there are some real sparkles into the workings of market research.

On their visit, they had exclusive access into the “sensory panel” room where employees test new menu items. At 3:25 they enter the room of cubicles where employees test Taco Bell food.

In the back room, shown at 4:20, there are monitors hooked up to video feeds of each cubicle. These feeds broadcast the reactions of the testers as they eat the menu item. This allows the researchers input into facial reactions and usability issues one may have eating a messy chulupa, or one of Conan’s creations, the La Cone-A, the O’Taco, or Hands-Free Burrito.

At 4:55, they enter the innovation kitchen to sample a new creation, not on the menu yet — the quesalupa. Conan makes a good point that the name may bring to mind, “case of lupus” and give the new menu item an unfortunate nickname.

This is a perfect example of the power of market research. Without feedback, a menu item like case of lupus could make it all the way to production, costing quite a bit money before they realize it’s a gaffe. (However, even with the feedback, they may choose to continue with it and capitalize on the virality of it).

At 8:50, my particular favorite part of this clip shows the testers rating Conan’s creations. In each tester’s cubicle is a touch-screen monitor that provides testing instructions. For instance, in the clip it shows (among other things) taht they are instructed to:

Please TASTE the product and rate the following:
Please rate your OVERALL LIKING of the product (based on appearance, flavor, and texture)
Like Very MuchLike SomewhatNeither Like Nor DislikeDislike SomewhatDislike Very Much

(By the way, this is a bipolar rating scale. Learn more about bipolar and unipolar scales in my blog: Unipolar vs. Bipolar Scales — these are not medical conditions!and More on Unipolar and Bipolar Scales)

Watch the clip to get your own taste of the role of market research in the food industry.