Taco John’s abandons Taco Tuesday trademark, issues charity challenge

Taco John’s abandons Taco Tuesday trademark, issues charity challenge

UPDATE: July 19, 2023: Taco Bell has commented on the news, with CEO Mark King calling it a “shared victory for taco allies everywhere” but stopping short of taking up Taco John’s charity challenge.

“Taco John’s decision to join the movement and liberate Taco Tuesday means countless businesses big and small, restaurants, and taco vendors can now embrace, celebrate and champion ‘Taco Tuesdays’ freely,” King said in a statement provided to Marketing Dive. “However, celebration is nothing without recognition and reflection. Thank you to the taco fans everywhere who fought by our side, and a thank you to Taco Johns for recognizing what we’ve known all along — when tacos win, we all win.”

Dive Brief:

  • Taco John’s on July 18 abandoned the United States Patent and Trademark Office registration for its servicemark “Taco Tuesday,” according to a press release. It had held the trademark since 1989 in every state except New Jersey.
  • The QSR chain is pledging $100 per location in its system to the nonprofit Children of Restaurant Employees (CORE) and is calling on competitors to make a similar donation to the organization. Taco John’s also called out LeBron James to donate his fees from Taco Bell’s recent Taco Tuesday-focused campaign to CORE.
  • Taco Bell in May launched a “liberation effort” around the Taco Tuesday trademark, a campaign that included an online petition, Reddit Ask Me Anything discussion and a 30-second ad featuring James, who unsuccessfully attempted to trademark the phrase after sharing videos of his family’s taco nights on Instagram.

Dive Insight:

Taco John’s is turning Taco Bell’s effort to “liberate” the Taco Tuesday trademark back on the QSR giant with its latest effort. The chain, which is based in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and has more than 300 locations across the Mountain West and Midwest, first responded to Taco Bell’s efforts in May, sarcastically thanking the industry leader for bringing attention to its brand.

This time around, Taco John’s is abandoning the trademark of a phrase — one widely used by other restaurants and consumers alike — and turning potentially negative attention into a positive, purpose-driven effort. The brand is also using the moment as an opportunity to punch up at a larger competitor that had filed legal petitions to cancel the trademark registrations around Taco Tuesday.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on being the home of Taco Tuesday, but paying millions of dollars to lawyers to defend our mark just doesn’t feel like the right thing to do,” said Taco John’s CEO Jim Creel, who is scheduled to retire at the end of this year, in a press release. “Let’s see if our friends at Taco Bell are willing to ‘liberate’ themselves from their army of lawyers by giving back to restaurant families instead.”

As part of the effort, Taco John’s is donating $40,000 to CORE, a nonprofit that supports restaurant workers with children by providing financial relief after a health crisis, injury, death or natural disaster. The $100-per-location formulation would cost Taco Bell about $720,000, or “less than they’d have to spend in a legal battle for the mark,” Creel said.

Taco Bell did not immediately respond to Marketing Dive’s request for comment regarding the trademark issue and charity challenge. This story will be updated pending a response.

Taco John’s also invited competitor chains Del Taco, Taco Bueno, Taco Cabana and Jack In The Box — which attempted to join the Taco Tuesday fray by trademarking the phrase “Taco Tuesnight” — to donate to the organization. By calling out those chains, mom-and-pop shops and LeBron James, who featured in Taco Bell’s 30-second “Taco Bleep” ad, the chain could boost attention and donations across social media.

Apart from its efforts around the Taco Tuesday trademark, Taco Bell has been busy this summer with a pair of nostalgia-fueled efforts. The chain in June partnered with Paris Hilton for the return of the 2000s fan favorite Volcano Menu and in July relaunched its Coin Drop game as part of its mobile app. Yum Brands also announced that Taco Bell global chief brand and strategy officer Sean Tresvant will replace Mark King, who is retiring, as the brand’s CEO on Jan. 1, 2024.

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