The Power (and Ethics) of an “Oops” Tweet: Rainn Wilson and His Infamous Del Taco Promo

Despite an upcoming presidential election and the Occupy Wall Street protestors still going strong, it was the always unpredictable Rainn Wilson (aka “Dwight Schrute” from NBC’s The Office) that got the attention of not only his followers but of the nation at large. How? With one simple tweet – well three to be exact. What has now can only be thought of as a PR stunt had many in a frenzy thinking that the TV star had mistakenly tweeted the following on Tuesday, October 25: “Joanne – tell @DelTaco I will not accept $12,000 to plug their sh***y food. Thanks, Rainn.” This message was later followed by, “Please disregard last tweet – was a private text to my assistant.” And this was all wrapped up with the impersonal plug, “Loving the new @DelTaco Macho Bellgrande Burrito! It’s Beeftacular™!”

Had this all been an actual “oops” moment, one may have to credit Wilson for his honesty. Many argue that the highly dramatic Anthony Wiener scandal would have been subsided had the former councilman just come clean in the first place. On the other hand, social media platforms make it hard to tell when a celebrity is promoting a product because he or she is paid to do so or if that person actually likes it. When we see a celebrity promoting makeup on TV, we automatically know that person is being paid to do so. But how do we know what is real from what is fake when it comes to social media?

Whether Wilson was paid to tweet is not the question. Regardless of any monetary compensation, the Del Taco fiasco was good business for all parties involved – Wilson, Del Taco and The Office (I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that more viewers tune in to see tonight’s episode). And that’s no slight to any of them…sponsorships and public endorsements have been a way of life for years.

The question is, as a consumer, do you feel cheated to some extent knowing that social media is being used by your favorite celebrities to promote others’ products and services (whether or not they think they are really great)?


2 thoughts on “The Power (and Ethics) of an “Oops” Tweet: Rainn Wilson and His Infamous Del Taco Promo

  1. I’m curious as to how you see this as being good for all parties involved. Sure, Rainn Wilson is a comedic actor and I’m sure his Twitter account is filled with tons of merriment, but to me he comes off as both petulant and a sell out. Sure, we all know that he’d lose tons of cred by blindly posting commercial tweets, but does anyone really think he’s being all punk rock by making fun of his endorsement and using some foul language?

    Furthermore, what does it say about Del Taco that they are so desperate for any validation that they would pay someone to say their food is bad and then let him mock that again by sarcastically saying it was good? Do they really think we’re so Pavlovian that we’ll just run to our nearest Del Taco because the socially awkward man on the teevee said the words “Del Taco”? This reeks of the usual corporate desperation to latch onto Twitter because it’s a thing people do and oh God can’t miss out on this like the dot com bubble.

    So no, I don’t feel cheated by reading ads on a celebrity Twitter account. Most celebrity accounts are just promotional tools, one way broadcast centers for bad jokes, or retweet spams of fawning praise (or insults LULZ!). I do feel a little insulted that a company thinks so little of its consumers that its willing to degrade itself like that.

    Even if it’s all part of the joke.

  2. From a PR perspective, a successful campaign or stint is typically the one that gets people talking. I bet people will stop by a Del Taco this week just simply because it’s top of mind. Why else would the QSR have engaged in this in the first place?

    And there’s no denying there’s been a lot of chatter surrounding this incident. Here’s what’s being said…
    “All I know is that a lot more people are talking about Del Taco today than they would be otherwise. And although Wilson would’ve reached a few million people with a simple tweet-plug, he’s reaching many more millions with the press (and yep, we’re guilty!) he’s generating. Also, there’s a new episode of The Office tonight (perfect timing). So, congratulations to Wilson for a good show and congratulations to Del Taco for getting us to talk about their sh***y food!”

    “If he didn’t get cash for the endorsement, he probably should have. The brand gets the exposure either way, and Rainn’s tweets are a lot more entertaining than celebrity shills like Snooki tweeting about weight-loss pills.”

    And even if people “hate” Wilson for engaging in this stint – just as people feel about The Office’s Dwight Schrute – they’ll LOVE to hate him. And at the end of the day, I doubt many will have ill feelings towards Wilson or Del Taco. In fact, Del Taco will most likely come off as edgy and clever. The joke this week satires what other celebs and companies do everyday.

    And that’s what I’m referring to here. It’s sad that social media is not being used in the way it’s intended to be used. It’s evolved from a platform to express one’s individuality to one filled with canned endorsements.

    Finally, there’s a major difference between advertising and PR. Advertising is paid; PR is earned. A commercial is an advertisement; however, Twitter is a PR tool, not an advertising platform. That’s why this is an ever more pressing topic in today’s world.

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