Taco Bell spices ads with UGC

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Taco Bell is targeting consumers in a new contest that lets entrants take a bite at fame.

The food chain has partnered with digital design firm Gizmoz and MTV to enter into the user-generated content space with a campaign that will give three consumers the chance to star as animated talking characters in a 30-second Taco Bell television commercial.

The ad for "Fourthmeal," a Taco Bell-invented late-night meal between dinner and breakfast, will debut worldwide during the MTV Video Music Awards on September 9.

"We wanted to do something kind of different with consumer-generated media and integrate these user-generated campaigns with new technologies," said Rob Poetsch, director of public relations at Taco Bell. "Avatars are a growing trend amongst our target market and it's great to be able to integrate them with an ad message."

Using Gizmoz.com's photorealistic avatars, consumers can audition for the Taco Bell TV Me search by simply uploading a digital photograph to create a 3D avatar. Consumers can use a microphone to record their own voice for their 15-second, lip-synched audition. Auditions will be judged on personality, originality, overall appeal and ability to express oneself.

The campaign calls consumers to Taco Bell's Web site at www.tacobell.com, and then includes a viral marketing component. After submitting their audition, users can send their entry to a friend or post their Gizmoz on a blog, video site or social networking profile, and rate other auditions.

The promotion will be supported by online banner ads, keyword search buys and with a co-branded spot that will air on MTV leading up to the VMAs. Promotional elements and the final spot are being produced by Draftfcb's Irvine, CA office.

The winners will be selected and notified at the end of July and then the commercial will go into production.

"This is the first time that we've ever done something like this, so we're learning as we go along," remarked Poetsch. "But we've found that customers love it. It is a fun and different way to get people involved with our brand, and reward their creativity."

Taco Bell is not the only fast food chain to encourage users to charge up their creative sparks. Earlier this year Pizza Hut held a contest that called consumers to make their own videos. The chain asked consumers to submit two-minute videos that showed their love for its pizza. In return, Pizza Hut awarded customer Nick Mathis of Crystal Lake, IL, the honorary title of vice president of pizza with a $25,000 salary, use of the company car for three months and a year's worth of free food.

While Taco Bell's campaign is the first to make use of Gizmoz's avatars, 3-D talking characters that can be built from a consumer's photo and then posted on various social networking sites and blogs, it is not the only food giant to target consumers with the colorful 3-D nature of avatars. Other players include McDonald's, Kellogg's and Kraft, who have also used avatars to promote products within virtual worlds. And last week, Burger King launched simpsonizeme.com, a site that allows users to upload a headshot of themselves, and have a yellow-faced Simpsons-style character created using their facial characteristics.

In 2006, McDonald's installed fast-food kiosks in Sims Online. The kiosks included employees working at the counter and able to serve up free burgers and fries to residents who made their selections from a clickable menu. Around the same time Kellogg's sponsored a contest in the virtual world Habbo Hotel, in which residents were asked to decorate their personal rooms in various Pop-Tartûrelated themes.

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