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Songs for Screens: Inside Darren Criss’ Nacho Fries Anthem for Taco Bell

Darren Criss has had one of the most successful acting pivots in recent memory, having successfully shed his “Glee” blazer for an Emmy and Golden Globe-winning turn as serial killer Andrew Cunanan for FX’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.”

For his latest role, Criss makes his commercial debut in Taco Bell’s “Chasing Gold,” a mock trailer for a faux-blockbuster touting the return of Taco Bell’s Nacho Fries. The 90-second spot, from Taco Bell’s ad agency Deutsch LA, tracks the fleeting fame of Criss’ fictional singer Zack Collins, who finds viral fame with his power-ballad tribute to the Mexican spices of Taco Bell’s popular menu item, only to discover that his newfound stardom – like the three-month limited availability of the Nacho Fires themselves – would be short-lived.

 

Nacho Fries have made four cameos on the Taco Bell menu since January 2018, and will be available until early August while the “Chasing Gold” campaign airs on network TV, in cinemas, social media and radio. A full-length version of Criss’ song for “Chasing Gold,” written and produced by award-winning music house Jingle Punks in collaboration with Deutsch’s Daniel Chen, Mikey Sison, Jeremiah Wassom and Chris Jones, is available to stream on YouTube.

Rob Poetsch, Taco Bell’s director of public affairs and engagement, says Criss was chosen as the campaign’s star for his ability to “give off [the character’s] innocence and pureness perfectly. That, coupled with the fact that he’s as good a singer as he is an actor, made him the perfect choice. We were lucky to be able to snag him for his first commercial ever — especially coming off of the awards he just won for ‘Assassination of Gianni Versace.’”

“Chasing Gold” is the latest Nacho Fries campaign from Taco Bell to apply movie-trailer tropes to build hype around the popular snack. Josh Duhamel starred in a pair of thriller-themed spots in 2018, “Web of Fries” and “Web of Fries II: Franchise Wars,” while James Marsden appeared in the action spoof “Retrieval” that aired during this year’s Super Bowl.

Brett Craig, Deutsch LA’s chief creative officer, says each of the film-inspired campaigns have been based off real consumer insights around Nacho Fries. For the series’ first music-based approach, Craig and his team turned to a meta-commentary approach. “Taco Bell fans are kind of giddy when Nacho Fries are here and when they go away, there’s a sense of loss. We laughed at the thought that fame is kind of a limited time offer, as well, which led to this idea.”

Jingle Punks CEO Jared Gustadt has collaborated with Bob Dylan, Lil Wayne and DJ Khaled in recent years in addition to ongoing theme music and scores for cable networks, but says co-writing the “Chasing Gold” theme “may be the highlight of my career from a creative standpoint. Now I have something that I can hum to people that they would recognize as opposed to background music that ends up in reality TV shows.”

Songs for Screens is a Variety column sponsored by music experiential agency MAC Presents, based in NYC. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column will highlight noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV.

 

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