LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Taco Bell took a parting shot Wednesday at the law firm that questioned the beef content of the filling in the chain's tacos and burritos.
In full-page newspaper ads, the company asks in big, bold type: "Would it kill you to say you're sorry?"
The chain ran the ads in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today as well as in publications in Chicago, Los Angeles and in Alabama, home of the law firm that sued Taco Bell early this year.
The ads amount to a victory lap by Taco Bell after the law firm dropped its lawsuit this week but also risk keeping the issue alive.
The law firm Beasley Allen said it dropped the lawsuit after Taco Bell made changes to its marketing and product disclosure.
Not so, the chain insisted. In its ads, Taco Bell says that it made no changes to its products, ingredients or advertising, no money was exchanged and there was no settlement agreement as a result of the suit being dropped.
The law firm had no immediate comment on the new ads.
Laura Ries, president of Ries & Ries, a marketing strategy firm based in Atlanta, said Taco Bell's latest response was a mistake. She said the ads revive memories of a lawsuit that most people had forgotten after the initial burst of publicity.
One positive approach was the mention that Taco Bell lists its ingredients on its company Web site, Ries said of the new ads.
Still, "when you run these ads defending, defending, defending, sometimes people think, 'Well, wait a minute, why are they trying so hard to defend themselves?'" she said.
Taco Bell says it spent $3 million to $4 million in advertising to counter accusations in the lawsuit. Previously, the chain ran full-page ads in at least nine major newspapers, aired television spots and launched a YouTube campaign to defend the quality of its taco filling.
"We launched this campaign to make sure that consumers know that we didn't change our marketing or products because we've always been completely transparent," Taco Bell CEO Greg Creed said in a statement Wednesday.
Taco Bell has said the allegations were "absolutely wrong" and the federal lawsuit was voluntarily withdrawn by the firm.
The false-advertising suit, filed in California in January, alleged the chain's filling doesn't have enough beef to be called that.
It alleged the meat mixture has binders and extenders and does not meet federal requirements to be labeled beef. The suit sought to make the company stop calling it "beef," and pay the suing law firm's bill.
Taco Bell says its taco filling contains 88 percent USDA-inspected beef and the rest is water, spices and a mixture of oats, starch and other ingredients that contribute to what it calls the "quality of its product." It says it uses no extenders to add volume to the filling.
Taco Bell has almost 5,600 U.S. restaurants. The chain is owned by Louisville-based Yum Brands Inc., which is also the parent of Pizza Hut and KFC. Taco Bell accounts for about 60 percent of Yum's profits in the U.S.
In the ads, Taco Bell gets in a final dig at the lawyers who brought the ill-fated 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!"
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