If you briefly explained the concept of Mexican food to a drunk alien and then asked it to make you a meal, you'd get Taco Bell.

It's almost fitting it's become a cult favourite among the intoxicated - because your palate has to be pretty numb to tolerate it.

Nothing on the menu comes even close to resembling authentic Mexican food. It's at best a stretched bastardisation of Tex-Mex food. But even suggesting that might be enough to provoke a Texan into slapping you with his Stetson hat.


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Compared to what you'd get at Taco Loco in Mt Albert or Cielito Lindo in Henderson, Taco Bell is at best a bleached knock-off by any objective standard.

"It's about as Mexican as Pizza Hut is Italian," quipped marketing strategist David Thomason when asked about the phenomenon.

And yet, Aucklanders made a steady migration west this week and queued for as many as three hours to get their hands on a lowly taco at the opening of the first Taco Bell in the city. And that hype is anticipated to stretch throughout this weekend.

So why would we go to such lengths to buy something of poor quality when there are far better options around? What happens to our logic and reasoning ability when the new food truck rolls into town?

Thomason, who works as the chief strategist at ad agency FCB, compares it to the first arrival of Starbucks in New Zealand.

"I remember thinking we have really good coffee, so do we actually need this?" Thomason says.

"But people still looked at the big sign and went to Starbucks."


Starbucks hasn't grown as big as it is in the States, but it is certainly another example of major brand managing to attract a Kiwi audience despite the widespread prevalence of great alternatives.

Thomason says much of this comes down to a strange reverence we still seem to have for big brands from the US.

"We've still got some deeply rooted envy," he says.

"We see this brand as big in America and find it almost flattering that they would come to little old New Zealand."

It serves again as a reminder that many shoppers are driven by emotional rather than rational forces when it comes to the decisions they make.

Analyst predictions from several years ago that the internet and all the information it offers would breed a new type of consumer driven by online research and reviews have proven woefully inaccurate. If anything, our irrational tendencies have only been accentuated by fabricated hype cycles and 24-hour access to store shelves.

Why $1 burritos didn't make the New Zealand menu

However, Taco Bell can't rely on hype indefinitely. The warm glow of being the new face in town will fade in the coming months – at which point the fast-food joint will have to find another way to keep pulling customers.

"I'd be interested to see how well they do after this launch period," Thomason says.

"They're going to have to find a point of difference in the market, and I'm not sure what that could be."