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Del Taco, the distant No. 2 player in the U.S. Mexican fast-food business behind Taco Bell, wants a brand icon, too.

This week, the chain launches a campaign to introduce a new spokescharacter-named Del Taco

-to rival Taco Bell's famous Chihuahua.

The actor portraying the pitchman appears in a spoof of a spaghetti western. His mission: to defend the right of fast-food customers to have big portions of fresh Mexican food.

"Bringing better Mexican food to the people" is the theme line for the advertising, which seeks to build Del Taco's image as well as promote its popular Macho Burrito line.

"We needed to put a face on the brand," said Annette Shehan, VP-marketing. "In the past, we were talking about price and product. We really wanted to stand for something, and the attributes we get credit for."

Those attributes include fresh food, big portions and value.


This is the first effort for the 333-unit chain from the Los Angeles office of WongDoody, Seattle. The agency won the creative assignment on the estimated $10 million account early last month.

Carat USA, Los Angeles, handles media planning and buying.

The campaign includes two 30-second TV spots, radio and direct mail. Initially, the broadcast will be a six-week flight in such key markets as Los Angeles, Modesto and Palm Springs, Calif.; Las Vegas; and Phoenix.

The character, who sports a sombrero rimmed in chili peppers, also will make public appearances, and his image will appear in the restaurants.

Del Taco won notoriety on Madison Avenue last fall when the Advertising Women of New York gave the chain its Grand Ugly award for a spot from former agency Italia/Gal, Los Angeles.

The ad, touting a Macho Burrito combo, showed a buxom blonde in a too-small bikini running in slow motion.

"If this is your idea of quality entertainment . . . have we got something for you," said the voice-over.


The new campaign uses Hollywood camp rather than sex to sell burritos. The first spot shows Del Taco in a dusty Western hotel using a huge burrito to foil capture by the enemy. The enemy is the Commandante, a character that represents big, national fast-food chains.

Ron Paul, president of restaurant consultancy Technomic, called the new character a good strategy.

"We all know that the character kinds of advertising have worked for quick-service chains," he said, noting that food shots and price alone aren't enough to cut through the clutter.

"There is a famous little dog that is associated with another fast-food company. This is a way to distinguish themselves," said Mr. Paul.

According to Technomic, Del Taco posted sales of $280 million last year, up 12%

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