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Stepping Up to Bat

A Taco Time franchisee gives high school students the chance to direct a commercial.

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It's the bottom of the ninth, bases are loaded, there are two outs and the home team is down by three. A batter approaches the plate and pitches fly past him-strike, ball, strike, ball, ball. Full count. The tension mounting, the batter yells, "Taco Time Out." He goes to the dugout and eats a taco with his teammates. Rejuvenated, the batter returns to the plate and hits a grand slam, rounding the bases as his teammates cross home plate. After he scores the winning run, his team hoists him up on their shoulders. The crowd goes wild.

Except for the tacos, this moment could have come from any number of baseball movies or young kids' fantasies. But this is no movie; it's a commercial for two Medford, Oregon, Taco Time quick-service Mexican food franchises, written, directed and edited by-and starring-high school students.

Medford franchisee Don Dietl wanted to do something for his community, particularly for the high school students who made up a great deal of his staff and customer base. "That's where I came up with the idea to actually have a high school develop a commercial for us," says Dietl, 41. "Then we expanded that to doing a competition with all the high schools in the area."

With help from Creative Communications, the Portland ad firm that works with Dietl, the franchisee pitched his idea to area high schools and the local cable company. The schools agreed to let their students participate, and the cable company offered equipment and expertise.

Marketing students from six schools were given six weeks to create a storyboard for a Taco Time commercial. The spots needed to be 30 seconds long-10 of those were to advertise the 59-cent taco sale at Dietl's franchises.

A panel of judges, including Dietl, a representative from Creative Communications and a representative from the cable company, reviewed 35 of the storyboards. Three of those boards were chosen as finalists. The winner was selected with input from Taco Time International. Each person on the winning team was given a $100 scholarship and other prizes.

The winning team from North Medford High School was given one day to film its baseball-themed commercial. A local ball field was used in the shot, and the North Medford Black Tornadoes baseball team starred.

In May, Dietl threw a party for the North Medford students, where they watched their commercial premiere during a NBA semi-final game. The commercial ran more than 400 times last year and may run again if Dietl brings back the 59-cent taco sale.

The competition attracted attention both from customers and the media. "While the commercial aired, [there was] a lot of talk around town and a lot of coverage," Dietl says. "Sales were up about 7 percent in both restaurants."

Satisfied with the results of the commercial contest, Dietl is making plans for a second competition, which he anticipates launching at the beginning of this year.

Yet with all the positives that came from this idea, Dietl did find one negative. "The only downside," he says, "was that could only be one winner. Unfortunately, we had to choose one out of 35."