``People are reading too much into it if they think the dog was developed to make fun of Latinos,'' one ad man says.
Knight Ridder Newspapers
To all the folks offended by Taco Bell's campaign featuring Gidget the talking Chihuahua hawking the chain's latest Mexican fast-food creation, it's time to retreat quietly and appreciate the spots for what they are: a recognition of the growing influence of Hispanic culture.
At least those are the thoughts from some of the minds that matter most in the debate over whether Gidget is bueno or malo (good or bad): Hispanic ad agency executives.
``I think it's a great campaign,'' said Norma Orci, co-chair and chief creative officer at La Agencia de Orci & Asociados, a Hispanic ad agency based in Los Angeles. ``It's great that Spanish things -- in this case `Yo quiero Taco Bell' -- are beginning to make it into the mainstream vocabulary.''
What are Orci's credentials? In 1996, she and her partner/husband Hector were inducted into the Se Habla Espanol Hall of Fame, one of the most prestigious honors bestowed on media executives working the U.S. Hispanic market. The firm's client list includes American Honda, Allstate Insurance and Washington Mutual Bank.
``I find the spots cute and entertaining,'' added Tony Flores of Atlanta-based ad agency Vargas Flores & Amigos, whose clients include Coca-Cola. ``It's a general market campaign that uses Latino icons and music.''
At Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, Calif., executives couldn't be happier with the campaign, created by TBWA Chiat/Day in nearby Venice, Calif. ``It's exciting to work with a character that is so mainstream and loved by consumers,'' said Taco Bell spokeswoman Laurie Gannon. ``Everybody loves the Chihuahua.''
The debate over Gidget got caliente (hot) when a Florida offi-
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cer of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the country's largest and oldest Hispanic membership organization, said the commercial wrongly poked fun at Latino culture. The story was sent across news wires nationwide.
LULAC's national president, Belen Robles, immediately issued a statement saying the Florida officer did not speak for the national organization. ``I personally do not find the commercials offensive,'' Robles said.
``I think people are reading too much into it if they think the dog was developed to make fun of Latinos,'' said Tony Dieste, president and chief executive officer of Dieste & Partners, an award-winning Hispanic agency in Dallas.
In Dieste's eyes, Gidget proudly deserves a spot right next to other commercial icons, such as Spuds MacKenzie, Tony the Tiger and Charlie the Tuna. ``This is no different than any other animal that's used in commercials,'' Dieste said. ``It's just a funny character representing a brand.''
For Orci, Gidget is a welcome addition to the mundo (world) of general market television.
``Hispanics are invisible in the general market,'' said Orci. ``No programming includes us. In most TV commercials, we never see Hispanics or hear a Spanish accent. Hispanics are invisible.
``Well, I like the idea of us not being invisible. I like the idea that we are a part of life, a part of this country. Many Hispanics in this country speak with accents. Many of my friends and associates speak English like that -- only not as cute.
``This little icon they have created is gorgeous, beautiful,'' Orci said. ``Hispanics are beginning to be perceived as part of general market. And the more natural it seems in our culture, the more natural it seems for us to be here and be a part of this community.''
For its part, Taco Bell is sticking to its pistolas.
The company plans to continue rolling out new Gidget commercials ``for the foreseeable future,'' said Gannon -- ``as long as consumers are enjoying the spots.'' The new spots will continue along the same vein: Gidget speaking Spanish, perhaps English, in some sort of Latino-themed situation.
Orci hopes the campaign ``will continue for a good long while and inspire some `rip-offs' or `me-toos.' ''
``Rip-offs,'' she said, ``in the sense of, `Let's try some Spanish in our spots, too.' I think it's created such a stir and gotten Taco Bell so much free publicity that I hope they are very successful, so that more people see that Hispanic or Spanish-language elements in advertising aren't such bad things.''