If a fast-food chain promises free food and no one is able to order it, does it make a sound?
The answer is a definitive yes: it ‘s the sound of hundreds of irate customers click-clacking away at tweets to Taco Bell with complaints that the chain’s promise of a free Doritos Locos taco today — in honor of the Golden State Warriors’ “steal” of an away game earlier this month in the NBA Finals (which the Warriors ultimately lost) — is essentially irredeemable for anyone ordering online or through Taco Bell’s app.
This is great and all, too bad you can't even order on the app or website. Won't take the price of the taco off on the app. So that's fun, a free $2 taco really isn't worth this much hassle— Eric Zigarovich (@Ziggy4532) June 18, 2019
Indeed, when, for the sake of journalism, I created an account and attempted to order a Cool Ranch Doritos Locos taco (Cool Ranch > Nacho Cheese, fight me) between the hours of 1 and 2:30 p.m. today, neither the app nor the website would work long enough for me to place an order. The allure of a free $2 taco quickly turned into immeasurably more costly levels of frustration and hunger.
The alternative, of course, is to snag a free taco by waiting in line at a physical Taco Bell location between 2–6 p.m. today (if the store has its shit together, that is), but isn’t the purpose of technology to free us from such corporeal tasks? Besides, one would think a multibillion-dollar corporation would be prepared for the huge traffic driven by American consumers’ predilection for free food.
May I present a theory? Informed by own prior experience waiting in agony for apps to load during free-food promotions (damn you, Chipotle), as well as the stories of my colleagues (damn you, Shake Shack), I am led to believe these deals are largely scams designed to push unsuspecting cheapskates further down the sales funnel by making them create accounts and download apps, thereby moving them one step closer to becoming a regularly paying customer.
Are these strategic machinations worth the risk of losing customer goodwill, you may ask? To that, I say yes: humans are creatures of habit, and it’s unlikely any of these frustrated customers will swear off Taco Bell for the rest of their lives, aggravated as they might be. The next time the craving for a beefy, cheese-covered taco hits, it’ll be that much easier for customers to open the app they forgot to delete from their phones, drool over the menu, and fork their money over to Taco Bell, all with just a few taps of the finger. Boom! Habit formed, regular customer acquired. In the end, it is Taco Bell who owns us.
Update: A Taco Bell spokesperson issued this statement on Wednesday morning: “Clearly the only thing people love more than tacos are free Doritos Locos Tacos. Our fans’ overwhelming excitement caused delays in our online redemptions, so we’re working quickly to ensure those fans impacted get the free tacos we promised.”
Taco Bell is extending the free-food promotion for users who were affected by technical difficulties on Tuesday. Per a spokesperson: “Affected users will be receiving a Redemption Day coupon that allows them to redeem their taco until the end of [...] June 20.”