April 19, 1998

Mal Perro

If you didnít get word, let me clue you in. The "Taco Bell Chihuahua" is now officially over.

Oh, sure, youíll see advertisements featuring this oh-so-cute puppy for the next couple of months. Even as we speak, a team of advertising executives is working hard to devise new, more clever situations in which to put the pooch. ("Okay, weíve done the Chihuahua as a bizarre Evita/Che Guevara mix Ö what about the Chihuahua as Stalin?")

Maybe this isnít a national ad campaign, or maybe some of you donít know what Iím talking about. To quickly summarize, Taco Bell, a Mexican fast food chain, has taken a once cute gag and run it in to the ground.

It all started simply, with the Chihuahua speaking only one line at the end of a commercial in which heíd run through city streets, and climbed a fire escape to find a man eating Taco Bell. "Yo quiero Taco Bell." Thatís it. (Translated, roughly, as "I want some Taco Bell.") Nothing more.

But now, this dog is getting worked in to the ground. Chihuahua on a basketball court. Chihuahua addressing a crowd. Chihuahua in the back seat of a car.

When will ad execs learn that sometimes, too much is too much? That in fact, enough is, by definition, enough? Weíve got one successful ad? Letís clone it in to ten more, each diluting the specialness and uniqueness of the original!

Why more ad types donít see that long term success depends on a nurturing relationship with the main character or characters is beyond me.

Letís look back at some advertising successes and failures over the past couple decades and see what lessons can be learned.

-- Budweiser frogs. Got old fast. Hipper Budweiser lizards successfully brought in to mock frogs (which is what we all were doing anyway). New lizard commercials saved for big events like Super Bowl.

-- Spuds McKenzie. Got old fast. Rammed into the ground by ad campaign unable to grasp the fact that American public was willing to tolerate one cute "party animal" commercial, not fifty.

-- Joe Camel. Stinky, ugly mascot for stinky, ugly product. Going strong!

-- "Herb." Burger King creation. Never tasted a "Whopper." Was an unsympathetic moron. Ditched.

-- "Mac Tonight." Hip half-moon crooned about value of Big Mac, assorted McDonaldís products. Considered hip enough to be revived. (Also caused moment of ugliness when I was on a pseudo-date, and had to explain to my companion who Bobby Darin and "Mack The Knife" were.)

-- Jack, i.e. Mr. Box. Unceremoniously blown up by Jack in the Box nearly two decades ago (remember?), Jack is back and swinging for the fences. Consistently funny, sometimes clever, sometimes just damn goofy. Great campaign still going strong.

-- Clara Peller, the "Whereís the beef?" lady. Okay once. Annoying twice. Ad campaign co-opted by political campaign. Retired. Died.

So what have we learned? What is the future for our Taco Bell Chihuahua?

I will always remember back to that bright and shining moment when I saw my first "yo quiero Taco Bell" ad. (For very different reasons than my buddy Larisa will ... but that's a whole 'nother story.) Here was promise. Here was potential. Here was a chance for the powers that be not to screw it up.

Hereís another ad campaign headed down the drain.

And so, at this point, you must be thinking, "Gee, Colin, what is it with you and advertising?" Well, you know the old saying. "Those who canít do, become critics." Maybe Iíll try to land a job with Jerry Seinfeldís proposed ad agency. Now thereís a guy who knows a good commercial, and has been in quite a few.

I guess itís all part of my overall critical world view. Iíll watch just about anything (Spiceworld comes to mind) as long as itís done either well, or with passion. I appreciate a good effort almost as well as a good success. And Iíd like to think that excellence in effort is often rewarded with success.

But life isnít always like that, is it? It should be, but it isnít.

In the meantime, Iím here analyzing talking lizards and bilingual Chihuahuas.

Go away, bad dog.

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Colin Campbell - jenolen@earthlink.net
Last updated May 24, 1998