A story you can really sink your teeth into


I have a confession to make. I love Taco Bell. Recently they ran a campaign to market their new XXL Steak Crispy Taco using NBA star Nate Robinson. In the words of a this former Marketing Major, I’m fairly certain I’m not in the target market for this product but I think the commercial follows the classic storytelling pattern, at least for the first 15 seconds. In an effort to really analyze Nate’s story and watch more taco bell goodness I dissected the video three different ways.

Act 1: Free throw

The first analysis was after watching the video once. I’ll be honest, I’ve seen this commercial before, but this is my first careful viewing.

This story starts off of a fairly high point; our character is a point guard in the NBA. It takes him down a notch by showing the audience that he was faced with a challenge of being small but overcame it and took on big things along the way. We end up with him being able to handle all of the challenges associated with being an NBA players and tackling a large taco.

story shape

Act 2: Well contested jump shot

Now I want take a look at the story at a more granular level. To do this I need to watch the story in 3-5 second segments.

Piano music starts playing and we hear subtle audience cheers…The first 3 seconds the narrator introduces the audience to Nate Robinson, pint sized point guard. The first scene shows Nate front and center strutting confidently in his NBA uniform with two much larger teammates being him. – key takeaway, “Nate is the man”.

The next three seconds we see young Nate front and center, building a massive Lego tower to the sounds of children lauging in the background as the narrator introduces us to the fact the Nate has always taken on big things.

This is reinforced with images of 10 year old Nate marching in a middle school band proudly playing the tuba (sound and all) as the narrator says, he has never been intimidated by big things in seconds 7-9.

The next three seconds are a bit of a blur, we see a 12/13 year old Nate dribble through a crown of kids and jump up and dunk to the sound of ooos and awwws as the narrator says, In Fact….

The next few seconds show 12/13 year old Nate, again front and center, proudly dancing with a much talker girl as the narrator reads, he embraced them. (get it, embraced them and he embraces the girl, ha)

At the 14 – 19 second point we see Nate, eating a large taco in the locker room (I’m sure this happens all the time) while his NBA teammates are going about their business. At Nate takes a bite of the delicious taco (lots of crunching) out narrator informs is that for Nate, taking down the ultimate steak taco was no big deal.

And finally at the 20 second mark, we are brought back to reality. This music stops – abruptly. As the narrator reads “you” we see an image of a somewhat dorky regular fellow in the locker room holding the same taco looking very concerned. Then Nate Strolls by, and the regular fellow stares in awe as the narrator informs the audience that we “are not Nate Robinson.”

The next 5-6 seconds feature a large images of the Taco with some rock music and “hardcore XXL lettering” as the narrator reminds us of the key marketing message, The new XXL Taco, Regular size for Nate Robinson, XXL for you.

The last few seconds the song continues and we see the taco bell logo and hear the Bell sound.

Act 2 Continued:The Assist

If Nate were a superhero his story would be something like this…

Once upon a time there was a pint sized point guard named Nate Robinson.

Every day, he was faced with big things.

One day, he built a giant block tower.

Because of that, he was given the confidence to take on more big things like playing the tuba.

Because of that, he was given the confidence to take on more big things, and even embrace them like dancing with a taller girl.

Until finally he was able to tackle eating a giant taco bell taco (and make it to the NBA)

Act 3: Drained it from way downtown

Having watched this commercial several times the key message was the same every time I watched it. The story is simple and easy to follow. I noticed more detailed elements of the story and some of the puns like embracing, as well as the intricacies like the use of music. Putting on my marketing hat for a second I think that is exactly what commercials should do. If the story is amazing and the audience doesn’t understand what the call to action is (or what the product is) they missed the point. In fact, I remember discussing several commercial in a marketing class that was really interesting to watch but I had no idea what I was supposed to want to buy after watching it.

The key takeaway I have from this is storytelling should be used as a tool to engage/relate to the audience but the objective of selling the product should not be forgotten. If I can run with that idea for a moment, the same is true for designing training. The story should be a means to explain a concept to a learner or teach them but the story must enhance the learning in some way or contribute to the learner experience. It can’t simply be for the sake of a story.

Side note, I hope someone noticed I named my sections based on the number of points those baskets are worth.


4 thoughts on “A story you can really sink your teeth into

  1. Thanks for sharing this story outline! Coincidentally, I am currently eating Taco Bell while commenting. 🙂

    Your takeaway was very strong. Since being in the Instructional Design program at Mason, this point has been emphasized over and over again. While it’s great to learn the latest tools and techniques for online learning, it’s also important to always take a step back in the initial planning stage of learning, or storytelling, to determine what the best mode of delivery is for learning, regardless of the level of technology.

    I am currently contemplating this same premise while brainstorming for our final project.

  2. I find this one interesting, because as you say; the story of the commercial is not a single one- there is a neat arc of Nate Robinson overcoming his height limits to achieve the success in the NBA. It plays with humor and exaggeration, right? Does that work to make us like or want him to succeed?

    I must admit a bit of wonder what the second half means. The “you” in the commercial turns out to be taller than Nate Robinson, and eating a larger taco, but obviously not an NBA player. But is it a story of wonder– if I eat this taco…?

    In some ways it plays with our expectations…

    You’ve really identified a lot of the cues in here, camera angles, music switches. This is a very thorough analysis and I am pleased they way you mapped it out.

  3. I love that you also chose a fast food/basketball example for this assignment–I used the Michael Jordan/Larry Bird Big Mac commercial. Just out of curiosity, did you intend for your story shape to be a Nike swoosh?! I think that added a nice unintentional dynamic to your sports story 🙂

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