Taco Bell Gives Gas

We get the joke. When Taco Bell decided to promote its new value menu by giving away tens of thousands of gallons of gasoline in nine different cities yesterday, we could all fill in the obvious punch line. It's not the first time that the fast-food chain has given its users gas in exchange for pocket change.

But I'm chalking this one up as yet another arguable marketing move by its parent, Yum! Brands (NYSE: YUM  ) . Yes, this was the same company that earned the ire of any thinking consumer when it tried to pass off its KFC grub as healthy last year.

By my math, figuring the company limited the fuel promotion to the first 200 cars with a 15-gallon maximum at the participating locations, the restaurateur may feel that it got a bargain. Getting this kind of national media coverage for less than $50,000 worth of petroleum may sound cheap, but what will Taco Bell gain in the long-term?

The Big Bell Value Fill-Up concept isn't new. Odds are that you've had a local radio station or chummy retailer pull a similar stunt at the pump. However, the mixed message of gas fumes and hungry appetites is lost on me.

Everyone already knows that you can fork over a fiver at a nearby Taco Bell and walk away with a ton of food. The new items -- like roasted potatoes in a beef burrito or a caramel apple turnover -- aren't daring enough to merit this "Notice Me" kind of act. Is the goodwill of roughly 2,000 drivers enough to offset the ones who were either denied their fuel or caught in the intersection traffic?

It seems noble to give away gasoline at a time when prices are spiked, but it doesn't make sense for a quick-service restaurant to give in to such a slow-footed promotion.

What's next? Will AT&T (NYSE: T  ) give away calls to option investors? Will Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) wash your windows for free? Will Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW  ) stand at the corner doling out free cups of steaming java?

It's not the joke. It's the delivery.

Are you becoming a regular at the drive-through lane? Are you counting calories? Want to shed some pounds now that summer is here? All this and more in the Fools Fighting Fat discussion board. Only on

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz thought that the caramel apple empanada sounded better than it actually tasted. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned.

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