What's the Big Idea?

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WongDoody, the agency that swept awards shows in '98 with an under-$115,000 Seattle Sonics TV campaign, is back again with a low-budget blockbuster, this time for a Seattle-area Mexican restaurant chain called Azteca.

The Azteca story in a taco shell: Starting with one restaurant some 25 years ago, the Ramos family now owns and operates more than 30 Aztecas. But despite this success, the chain remains a family-run business. "They just have a really huge family," says copywriter Dean Saling.

WongDoody had been working with the Ramoses for a year and a half doing radio, outdoor and small-space print ads, but the agency really wanted to go to TV. Finally, Saling says, they talked the client into doing some low-budget commercials. To push that wholesome family feel -- and work within the limited budget --the creatives decided to shoot the spots as a cheesy soap opera.

In one spot, Juanita is in the hospital telling Teto that she'll understand if he wants to break up with her, now that she's surely been disfigured in a horrible tortilla press accident. Then the doctor peels away her bandages to reveal . . . a tortilla for a face! But it's OK. Teto loves her even more, because now she's "as beautiful as one of Mama's homemade tortillas."

The spots cover the usual run of soap opera fare like amnesia and evil impostors, but one standard storyline had to be avoided, says art director Jason Black. "We had a spot with kidnapping in it, but they wouldn't do it. Not because it wasn't funny, but it turns out someone in the family had been kidnapped. It hit too close to home, so we moved on."

"The basic strategy is branding Azteca as a warm, family-run business," explains Saling. "The family members are very visible at the restaurant, and this is just a case of keeping the same form they've always used -- but doing something a little wackier with it."

Wackier indeed. "A small budget really forces your hand in how you execute these things," says Saling. "It was a scaled-down, fun shoot with a crappy set and no real actors. Just family members who couldn't act their way out of a paper bag. It would be like, `That's a really bad take. Great, we'll use it!' "

Client: Azteca Mexican Restaurants Agency: WongDoody/Seattle CD: Tracy Wong ACD: John Schofield ADS: Jason Black & Mark Watson CWS: Michael McCullough & Dean Saling Director: Tony Ober, Ober Lenz Producer: Craig Potter