“The packets of hot sauce are talking to me.”

This comes from my friend in Orange County, who, with her teenage daughter, has just come from picking up some fast food at Taco Bell and has called to tell me about it.

She is refering to the little packets of hot sauce that are included with the meal. How did these inanimate objects become anthropomorphic? Because each has been individually emblazoned with a line of “dialogue” like those Valentines Day candy hearts with catchy slogans on them.

And though there are maybe a dozen little packets in the bag, there isn’t a repeated line!

“Will you scratch my back?” says one. “I’m taking the day off, see next packet,” says another. “Will you marry me” and “The feeling is mutual” and “At night the sporks pick on me!” say others.

But I think my favorite is the little packet that has the line:

“Oohh. Oohh. I call the glove compartment.”

Turns out this has become a ritual for Mom and daughter. They go to Taco Bell because they like the food, but they run to Taco Bell to pick up the next packs of hot sauce and see what new things they have to say!

In the first Save the Cat! I talk about how in advertising we respond to the talking version of the product. Tony the Tiger sells Frosted Flakes. And here on the West Coast, a long series of successful commercials have made the Jack in the Box icon of that fast food chain come to life as the hip, slick and cool CEO of the company — albeit saddled with a giant clown head.

Why does this work? Because character counts. As audiences we crave story and getting into the skin of any character that speaks to us, and has problems that we have, hits us where we live. We identify with the “who” of any situation. And the effect, when it’s done well, is well-deserved attention.

The genius of this is: how much did this cost Taco Bell to raise the level of their customers’ experience with their business? Not much is the answer. And they didn’t have to spend millions on a new advertising campaign to trumpet the new innovation. They got some clever copywriters and started having fun with the concept, and as a result it made going to Taco Bell a lot more fun, too. That little something extra didn’t have to be part of the experience, but by adding it in, it may have added repeat customers. It certainly has had the effect on my friend and her daughter.

“I want to find out who the people are who wrote these and thank them,” says my friend. “Because they make me happy.”

See?!! Liking the heroes of a story, even the story of my trip to the fast food place, just takes pen, paper, and a little clever brainstorming.

If only the writers of movies could take the same effort to make their heroes just as lovable, you wouldn’t need the explosions and the car chases. Clever doesn’t have to cost alot — and the results can be quiet success.