MEDIA: Taco Bell: Yo quiero profits, not just a cute little dog

When Taco Bell announced it was dismissing both its chief executive and the advertising agency that created its talking Chihuahua, the media appeared to devote more attention to the Chihuahua’s fate than to Waller’s.

When Taco Bell announced it was dismissing both its chief executive and the advertising agency that created its talking Chihuahua, the media appeared to devote more attention to the Chihuahua’s fate than to Waller’s.

When Taco Bell announced it was dismissing both its chief executive

and the advertising agency that created its talking Chihuahua, the media

appeared to devote more attention to the Chihuahua’s fate than to

Waller’s.



As a result of management changes, CEO Peter Waller will be replaced by

Emil Brolick of Wendy’s and TBWA Chiat/Day will lose its dollars 200+

million account with Taco Bell in favor of Foote, Cone & Belding, which

engineered Taco Bell’s ’Run for the border’ ads in the late ’80s and

early ’90s.



Interestingly, The media’s coverage suggested that slumping sales were

the primary reason for the changes at Taco Bell. David Novak, CEO of

Tricon Global Restaurants, Taco Bell’s parent company, justified the

changes by saying, ’Last year, our sales (at Taco Bell) were flat, and

this year sales were negative. We are able to do better than that’ (The

Wall Street Journal, July 19).



Despite the stated desire for change, Novak indicated the dog might be

retained for future cameo appearances.



Nearly half of the analyzed coverage pointed out that Taco Bell’s

Chihuahua - whose catch phrase was ’Yo quiero Taco Bell’ - is still very

popular with the public. Tom Carroll, president and CEO of the outgoing

ad firm, noted people still like the dog and thought canceling the

campaign was a mistake. A few media outlets covered the suggestion by

Carroll and others that the ad campaign was being used as a scapegoat

for decreased sales at Taco Bell.



Industry consultant Ron Paul appeared to agree, telling The New York

Times (July 19), ’It’s increasingly difficult for the ’quick serve’

players to show the kinds of gains they enjoyed in the past, and

somebody has to be blamed. It’s not shoot the messenger, it’s shoot the

agency.’



Media reports reflected on the Chihuahua ads quite warmly, describing

how the public had taken to the bug-eyed, large-eared dog. Coverage

regularly referred to the ad campaign’s heyday in 1998, describing it as

a national phenomenon. CNN (July 19) referred to the dog as ’an icon’

and ’one of the most successful campaigns in history.’



However, the media provided coverage of comments suggesting the ads

starring the dog were effective in creating brand awareness, but failed

to translate that awareness into sales. And Novak made it clear which

was his priority.



USA Today (July 19) asked, ’Is Tricon worried that dumping the popular

Chihuahua will put Taco Bell in the doghouse with consumers?’ In the

same article, Novak responded, ’The concern we have is getting our sales

up.’ He outlined this specific challenge for Foote, Cone & Belding in

several articles.



A few media outlets quoted Novak on the decision to replace outgoing

Taco Bell CEO Peter Waller and change ad agencies. Novak explained, ’It

is an appropriate time to bring in a new, outside perspective’ (The

Louisville Courier-Journal, July 19). It will be interesting to see if

Novak’s plan works. In the meantime, the case of the chalupa-craving

canine serves as a lesson for advertising agencies: creating an ad

that’s memorable is not enough; one also has to get people to buy the

company’s products.



Evaluation and analysis by CARMA. Media Watch can be found at

www.carma.com.



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