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The Long Lost Legend of the Taco Bell Dog

Maggie Pasztor

Staff Writer

January 26, 2024

The People's Chihuahua - The forgotten icon resurfaces with this glimpse into the history of the famous Taco Bell advertising campaign.

A turn in history was marked during September of 1997 as the iconic ad campaign featured the captivating Chihuahua Gidget, more often known as the Taco Bell Dog, as she made her first appearance in the world of marketing. She also played Reese Witherspoon’s dog in “Legally Blond,” ads for Geico, and appeared in “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” where she was prompted to choose between chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell’s chalupa. To the company’s dismay, she chose the chicken. Her popular slogan “Yo Quiero Taco Bell,” stole the hearts, and convinced the stomachs of many people to book it to Taco Bell and indulge their body’s weight in Mexican-inspired food items. 

These commercials were an anomaly to the world of advertising, featuring individual lore and plots per each commercial. One 1997 commercial depicted the chihuahua’s love interest (Gidget played a male in the commercials), whom he passed in an effort to convince a man to give him his taco by saying “Yo quiero Taco Bell” in his deep and human-like male voice. The commercial ended with the advertisement of two tacos for 99 cents, a deal that can be considered practically free in this time and day. Another commercial showed a similar order of events: the dog feverishly racing up the side of a building, seemingly to greet his love, only to briskly avoid her to climb to the roof to, yet again, stoically say “Yo quiero Taco Bell” to a man holding a “crunchy, cheesy Mexican pizza.” Other commercials included a hypnosis attempt, where the Taco Bell Dog attempted to convince you that “You're getting hungry, very hungry” for their Gorditas, and a 1998 commercial where the chihuahua loomed over an entire cheering city, announcing “Viva Gorditas” to which the crowd responds in complete and utter excitement-filled chaos. 

Stuffed swag - Taco Bell Chihuahua plush dolls were all the rage with 90s consumers.

This ad campaign grew so large that the company began producing collectible plushies of this dog from 1998 to 1999, those of which contained individual voice boxes that announced the saying “Yo Quiero (X).” These plushies had multiple variations adding up to eight original characters. From holding a rose, a wanted sign, a “Free Tacos” sign, and even one with a shirt that had a picture of Gidget herself on it, these eight plushies were desired by many. By simply going to your local Taco Bell, you were able to purchase these talking Chihuahuas that came sealed in a clear plastic package, though stock varied at each location.  

However, what originally seemed as the turning point of the company's profit, ended in disaster after Taco Bell lost $42 million in a breach-of-contract concerning the creators of the mascot as LATimes reported. These two men from Michigan argued that Taco Bell stole their idea of this “Psycho Chihuahua” after discussing this possible campaign with the company previously in 1996, and inevitably sued the franchise for $30 million in damages, while the judge of the case increased the fine by another $12 million in interest. Furthermore, though it is rumored that the campaign ended because the beloved dog died, in reality, the campaign was accused of depicting racist ideas towards Latinos and caused a lot of ire on behalf of Latin Americans which consequently led to its downfall. 

Ultimately the adored dog did pass at 15, according to NPR, due to a “massive stroke,” late on a Tuesday night while in her trainer’s home in Santa Clarita, California, and was put down to avoid any other suffering. Despite her passing, the 1997 to 2000 mascot will be remembered by all as will the brilliant ad campaign and catchphrase, “Yo Quiero Taco Bell.”

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