Taco Bell has a terrifying culinary vision—and no, it’s not on the menu.
In “Routine Republic,” a new ad released online Monday, Taco Bell gives us the stuff of dystopian fast-food nightmares: a society in which everyone must eat the same breakfast every day. “It’s another perfect morning in the Routine Republic, where happiness is eating the same breakfast,” a woman’s voice chirps as our protagonist wakes up. We watch him pass a decrepit yellow slide, head into a gray square, and join a queue. A black-gloved hand passes him a generic ham-and-egg sandwich. An army of clowns (part-Joker, part-Soviet, all terrifying) patrols the crowd.
And then ... defiance! Our protagonist unfolds a piece of paper with a secret symbol and the word “defect.” He and our supporting character (who looks a lot like The Hunger Games’ Katniss) exchange knowing nods before darting away, a mob of clowns in pursuit. At the edge of the gray, drab land, they tumble into a ball-pit moat, then pull down a propaganda poster to reveal a vivid, magical breakfast land where dozens of millennials are happily consuming Taco Bell breakfast sandwiches.
While Taco Bell hasn’t gone so far as to label its dystopian breakfast regime “McDonald’s,” don’t doubt that that’s the idea. The “same breakfast” sandwiches are stand-ins for the Egg McMuffin; the clowns are Ronald McDonald’s evil Eastern Bloc cousins; the decrepit playground slide is a remnant of a McDonald’s Playland. Taco Bell also has a well-established record of taking digs at McDonald’s in its ad campaigns. Last year, the company enlisted famed documentarian Errol Morris to film real-life people named Ronald McDonald declaring their love for Taco Bell’s breakfast offerings.
Fictionalized drama aside, it isn’t even that much of a stretch to compare McDonald’s to a breakfast dictator. The Golden Arches has historically commanded the lion’s share of the more than $30 billion market for fast-food breakfast; recently, breakfast has remained a lone bright spot in the chain’s otherwise beleaguered business. Taco Bell and its peers would dearly love to steal away some of that market share, and so the fast-food breakfast wars have raged. In March of 2014, Taco Bell introduced an entirely revamped breakfast menu led by the waffle taco, a syrupy fold of eggs and meat that won the chain significant social points, if zero culinary victories.