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Taco Bell Marketing

Two young men ride in an older BMW car while listening to 80’s music and happily munching on fast food from Taco Bell. Above the back seat sits a bobbing plastic dog. Suddenly, the young men look in their rear-view mirror and to their surprise realize that the plastic dog has been replaced by a little pointy-eared Chihuahua with bulging eyes. This dog is very much alive, and he will do just about anything to get his little canine teeth around some of that delicious food.

In his quest for ultimate satisfaction, the Chihuahua speaks out, “Yo quiero Taco Bell! ” – translated into, “I want Taco Bell! ” It was a cute dog, whose catchy phrases like this one had captured the imagination and excitement of many Taco Bell consumers. Their marketing campaign was a success because the dog was able to connect with their targeted market of young adults who primary thinks about food, sex, and parties. Every new commercial was widely discussed across school courtyards.

At one point, the dog’s catch phrases had even become a part of human vernacular. Taco Bell achieved this level of success by connecting their advertising character with the audience through humor and satire reflected in the stereotypes coming out of the quasi-Mexican image presented in the commercials and by exploiting the Chihuahua’s cute image to appeal to the viewers. After the launch of the first Chihuahua commercial and its rapid cute image appeal to the broad based market, it became apparent that Taco Bell’s marketing campaign was right on the mark.

The dog, named Dinky, characterized by its bulging eyes, innocent expressions, tiny size, irresistible Spanish accent, and its catchy phrases like, “Here lizard, lizard, lizard” and “I think I need a bigger box” was simply adorable. Dinky’s image was trustworthy; after all, a dog is a man’s best friend. In turn, the voice of Taco Bell, shadowed by the cute advertising character that people saw through their television tube, exploited the audience’s emotions to appeal to the person’s subconscious rather than the physical mind itself.

In Jack Solomon’s essay, Masters of Desire: The Culture of American Advertising, he states that, “The success of modern advertisings, its penetration into every corner of American life, reflects a culture that has itself chosen illusion over reality. “(170). Taco Bell’s Chihuahua commercials is just another example of how today’s advertising campaigns are targeted to appealing to the viewer’s subconscious emotions because ad-created images of a product, such as trustworthiness and companionship found in Dinky’s character, show a pattern of selling better than the product itself.

The cute Chihuahua, that so happens to take the viewer’s breath away with its adorable look, also connects with the audience through laughter by reflecting the stereotypes of a quasi-Mexican image. A simple smile from the viewer opens a lot doors for the marketers. Behind one of these doors is an opportunity to engage the viewer in the commercial, establishing a link between them and the brand.

Taco Bell’s use of a Chihuahua, rather than a famous mainstream artist, to portray Mexican people and culture reinforces the stereotypes that Mexican people are dirty, uncivilized, and small in stature because a dog would eat anything that it finds on the streets and it’s tiny in comparison to the dominant human race, especially a Chihuahua of all canines. Furthermore, Dinky’s color is brown – the same color that often associated with a Hispanic’s skin tone and disrespectful if used to categorize their race.

However, the audience laughs because there is no way to take a four-legged, burrito-craving animal seriously when all it wants is some Taco Bell. Michael Omi brings up a similar situation in his essay, In Living Color: Race and American Culture. At one point, he analyzes the popularity of the Saturday Night Live show, despite televising comedy skits such as Ching Chang, “which depicted a Chinese storeowner and his family in a derogatory manner” (pg. 558). “It’s funny,” most people would answer, just as the Chihuahua is funny when it imitates a Spanish accent.

Although, making fun of the Mexican culture is not part of Taco Bell’s direct intentions, the humor that it produces from the ad engages the viewer in the commercial and reinforces these stereotypes in their mind. As Omi argues, “Our common sense’ assumptions about race and racial minorities in the United States are both generated and reflected in the stereotypes presented by the visual media” (pg. 562). As an example, he states that, “Blacks are associated with drugs and urban crime, Latinos with illegal’ immigration, while Native Americans cope with alcoholism and tribal conflicts” (pg. 564).

Taco Bell’s choice of a Chihuahua to advertise their brand translated into high popularity of their commercials at the expense of portraying Mexican people as being “less than human. ” The fact that Dinky is a Chihuahua who speaks Spanish may be offensive to some; yet he was recognized in American pop culture as being cute and funny. Dinky was like the Pillsbury Doughboy, but for tacos and burritos instead of cookies and muffins. The dog had a gift for putting on smiles on viewer’s faces, filling their hearts with joy, and making them feel welcomed at Taco Bell locations. In Snap! Crackle! Plot! Roy Rivenburg writes, “Product mascots are so well known to us signifying just how ad-saturated a culture we are” (pg 780). Is this really true? Well next time you pass by a Chihuahua being walked in the park, take a mental not of the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t be surprised if a sudden craving for a Grilled Stuff Burrito stimulates the taste buds. Taco Bell successfully exploited the character’s hip attributes to influence the consumer’s choice of a fast food restaurant. Dinky was also the leading force behind Taco Bell’s future success in launching new product lines, such as the Gorditas and the Grande Meal.

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