That Time When Taco Bell Fooled Everybody Into Thinking They Bought the Liberty Bell
by Matthew Gilligan
It was back in 1996 when famous fast-food joint Taco Bell pulled off a hoax that fooled a whole lot of people: the organization had purchased one of the most recognizable symbols of America, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
On April 1, 1996, several major newspapers ran an article with the following paragraph:
“In an effort to help the national debt, Taco Bell is pleased to announce that we have agreed to purchase the Liberty Bell, one of our country’s most historic treasures. It will now be called the ‘Taco Liberty Bell’ and will still be accessible to the American public for viewing. While some may find this controversial, we hope our move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to do their part to reduce the country’s debt.”
As you can imagine, people were shocked and the National Park service, newspapers, and even Taco Bell headquarters received phone calls from concerned citizens.
The whole thing turned out to be a hoax cooked up by PainePR, a public relations firm working for Taco Bell.
David Paine of PainePR said the plot worked like a charm:
“It hit at just the right moment of time in our country’s history. Companies were beginning to sponsor things … At the time, it was just becoming controversial. And so the idea that [Taco Bell] could, in effect, purchase or sponsor the Liberty Bell seemed like a really fun, creative, and goofy idea that would appeal to their young audience. Be a little antiestablishment, which is exactly what we were going for in terms of the Taco Bell brand.”
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But not everyone thought the joke was funny. One Philadelphia resident said, “I think it’s in poor taste. Even if it’s a joke, I don’t think that they should take that symbol and use it in an advertisement. I don’t think it’s right … It just goes to show you nothing is sacred anymore … the Liberty Bell belongs to the country … it belongs to the people.”
Here’s a news report about the April Fool’s joke from 1996.