Taco Bell’s ads star real-life Ronald McDonalds

NEW YORK – Taco Bell is name-dropping an unlikely clown to promote its new breakfast menu – Ronald McDonald.

The fast-food chain will begin airing ads Thursday that feature everyday men who happen to have the same name as the McDonald’s mascot known for his bright red hair and yellow jumpsuit. The ads, by Oscar-winning director Errol Morris, are intended to promote Taco Bell’s new breakfast menu, which features novelties like a waffle taco.

The chain, owned by Yum Brands Inc. of Louisville, Ky., is looking to boost sales by opening most of its roughly 6,000 U.S. stores a few hours earlier at 7 a.m. starting this week.

But Taco Bell has a long way to go to catch up with McDonald’s, the No. 1 player in breakfast with 31 percent of the category, according to market researcher Technomic. Egg McMuffins and other items have been consistent sellers for McDonald’s over the years, with breakfast accounting for about 20 percent of the company’s U.S. sales.

By comparison, a Yum executive has said breakfast accounted for just 4 percent of sales when it was being tested at Taco Bell stores in select markets. That was before national marketing began, however, and Taco Bell President Brian Niccol said in a phone interview that the goal was to get the figure to a level “much greater than that.”

Niccol concedes that the real-life Ronald McDonalds were paid for their appearances in the ads, but insists their enthusiastic reactions to the food were real.

“All of them resoundingly loved the food,” he said.