Taco Bell fences in Chihuahua for ads

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Taco Bell Corp. is keeping its spokesdog on a tight leash in a pair of new TV spots backing a 99 cents Enchirito promotion. "Five guys with no talent" star in the top taco chain's pair of new ads, with the Chihuahua relegated to a cameo in just one of them.

The two spots broke last month, and are believed to be Taco Bell's second effort behind the gooey product wrap since restoring it to the national menu late last year after a seven-year absence. A mainstay since the chain's early days in the '60s, franchisees ignored the mandate to eliminate the menu item and later rallied to bring the Enchirito back.

In the first spot, called "Rap," a man named David, described as one "hungry dog," spits out a rhyme extolling the virtues of the enchilada/burrito hybrid as his buddies carry the backbeat with howls. The dog chimes in at the end as they chant "Go David. It's your birthday."

STRATEGIC SHIFT

The spots appear consistent with the strategic shift that began last year to push value over the canine. The dog, Gidget, is absent in the second spot, in which the guys attempt a mariachi imitation singing "Enchirito" over and over to a Mexican-style melody.

Gidget's future as spokesdog is safe, however, according to dog trainer Sue Chipperton and voice-over actor Carlos Alazraqui. "I've heard that from day one," said Mr. Alazraqui of the speculation that Gidget's days are numbered in the ads. While he doesn't personally see the storyboards, he was told the ad strategy was to go back to the old "food, dog, food, dog" creative.

But according to an agency official, the canine's role is changing. The dog's "involvement [in the ads] is evolving," according to Tom Carroll, president-CEO at Taco Bell agency TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif.

The dog's silence is not due to the Screen Actors Guild strike, since Mr. Alazraqui recorded several voice-overs for Taco Bell in the week preceding the strike. The chain is said to be shooting additional new commercials for July using non-union actors.

SHOT LIKE HOME VIDEO

Both current spots are set in a Taco Bell restaurant and are shot to look like home video. Before ending, they cut to a black screen with the phrase "Only at Taco Bell" written in white letters, in an apparent attempt at one-upsmanship to chief competitor Del Taco, which recently launched spots touting products unavailable at the taco goliath.

The company spent $227 million in measured media last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

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