On April 1, 1996, a full page ad appeared in the New York Times, USA Today, and other US newspapers:

Taco Bell Buys The Liberty Bell

In an effort to help the national debt, Taco Bell is pleased to announce that we have agreed to purchase the Liberty Bell, one of our country's most historic treasures. It will now be called the "Taco Liberty Bell" and will still be accessible to the American public for viewing. While some may find this controversial, we hope our move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to do their part to reduce the country's debt.

Callers by the thousands deulged the National Park Service (responsible for the care and display of the Liberty Bell) to inquire and complain about the acquisition, including aides for at least four congressmen. The Park Service had no warning and was as dumbfounded as the callers.

Many complained that the ad was in poor taste (no pun intended) and that it should have carried a disclaimer, or not run at all. But those with a sense of humor caused Taco Bell’s sales to jump significantly over the next week and the firm responsible for the ad, PainePR, won an award. Taco Bell donated $50,000 towards the upkeep of the Liberty Bell.

The reason the ad successfully duped so many people (besides inherent human stupidity) is because the growing encroachment on public life of corporate advertising.made such an acquisition extremely plausible. Perhaps one day not so far off a national park or monument will bear the name of a corporate sponsor, but until that day we can at least take solace in the fact that one corporation has something of a sense of humor.

Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, April 2, 1996

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