LOS ANGELES (July 19) - Drop the Chihuahua!
In a surprise announcement Tuesday, Taco Bell Corp. said it has decided to replace its top executive and the advertising agency that introduced the chalupa-loving talking pup in commercials.
Peter C. Waller, president of the Irvine-based fast-food chain since 1997, will be replaced by Emil Brolick, 52, a 12-year veteran at Wendy's International Inc. who has overseen product development and strategy at the burger chain.
The Chihuahua, known for his trademark slogan ``yo quiero Taco Bell,'' will not play a prominent role in future ad campaigns, though it might get a cameo role now and then, said David E. Novak, chairman of Taco Bell's parent company, Tricon Restaurants International.
The Los Angeles-based advertising agency of TBWA/Chiat Day introduced the Chihuahua shortly after winning a $200 million advertising account in 1997. Taco Bell said it would return all of its advertising to its former agency, Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide.
The talking Chihuahua turned into a national phenomenon in 1998. Taco Bell customers bought 13 million Chihuahua plush toys. The dog and its tag line became fodder for late-night talk show jokes.
The Chihuahua has faded from ads in recent months as Taco Bell decided to focus on its low-price menu items. Second-quarter results released Tuesday showed sales at Taco Bell restaurants open for at least a year dropped 6 percent.
``Last year's sales were flat, this year's are down. We recognized that some fundamental changes were necessary at Taco Bell,'' Novak said.
Tom Carroll, chief executive of TBWA/Chiat Day, said he was disappointed by the dismissal and felt ditching the Chihuahua would be a mistake.
``People like the dog,'' he said. ``It's just that simple.''
Tricon, which is based in Louisville, Ky., also owns Pizza Hut and KFC Corp.
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