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Why Taco Bell Spent $5 Million to Introduce the Quesalupa

Marketing for the future.

Taco Bell/Official

Fact: Taco Bell's newest creation, the quesalupa, has been a long time coming and now it's here. America's biggest quasi-Mexican chain just spent at least $5 million on a 30-second commercial during Super Bowl 50 this afternoon to confirm that every American can order this food thing at any Taco Bell location in the U.S. starting tomorrow and for a limited time.

So what is a quesalupa?

It's a crunchy quesadilla folded and filled with taco ingredients. Two corn tortillas sandwich a filling of melty, stringy cheese that is then folded and filled with Taco Bell's (particular definition of) ground beef, cheese, shredded lettuce, and salsa. As OC Weekly reporter Gustavo Arellano noted, it looks like a rip off of a taco gobernador.

What is a taco gobernador?

A style of taco popular in Baja, California, it's a quesadilla or sometimes a single tortilla lined with melted cheese and then filled with shrimp or other seafood and salsa. A restaurant chain called Los Arcos trademarked the name taco gobernador though, so Taco Bell couldn't have used that name even if it wanted to.

Why did Taco Bell call it a quesalupa?

Perhaps because quesalupa sounds vaguely Spanish? Quesa- for cheese and -lupa, which strictly means either magnifying glass or fine toothed comb. According to Taco Bell, it's a combination of the chain's Chalupa (a sort of extra-crunchy taco) and its Quesadilla. The quesalupa has been described as a sort of South of the border stuffed crust pizza, at least in terms of innovation and marketing value.

Who cares?

Taco Bell's innovations, overblown as they may be, are watched closely by chain restaurant operators across the country. Unlike most other chains, Taco Bell isn't thinking about millennials, it's targeting its new creations at generation Z (an unfortunately terminal-sounding generation), otherwise known as post-millennials. It's a smart move. Millennials and gen-Yers are mostly over Taco Bell except as a nostalgic indulgence. It's not that young people like totally different things. As Melissa Friebe, head of Taco Bell's Insights Lab, told Fast Co.Create, "We study gen Z not just because we want to target them, but because we want to get ahead in culture and we want to predict what's going to happen. And also because youth is what our brand DNA is about."

While the bulk of Taco Bell's menu is made up of classics like "Triple Steak Burrito" and "Crunchy Taco," the company's 42-year-old CEO Brian Niccol has been reaching into memories from his college days for the company's latest and most successful product launches, including the Doritos Locos Tacos of 2012 and last year's Cap'n Crunch Delights.

The Quesalupa, then, is less about the ingredients and product innovation and more about creating buzz for a greasy, crave-able food item with a catchy name and Super Bowl-sized marketing campaign.

Video: Taco Bell's New Quesalupa