Chihuahua Toys (Taco Bell, 2000)

I’ve always been a loyal fan of Taco Bell, and I’m not ashamed to say it. From their ridiculous “I’m FULL!” television commercial series to expanding their menu with breakfast items, Taco Bell is that chain I can count on whenever I crave a little comfort that burgers and sit-down restaurants can’t quite satisfy. Plus, it’s cheap. I always think back to that line in This is the End where Seth Rogen says, “I remember thinking ‘how much food could 20 dollars possibly buy you at Taco Bell?’ and the answer is infinite.” But as I reflect back on Taco Bell’s legacy, I’m reminded of one marketing ploy that wasn’t quite so infinite and was relatively short-lived: the official Taco Bell mascot.

"Yo Quiero Taco Bell" Television Commercial (Taco Bell, 1997)

The talking Taco Bell Chihuahua first debuted in September 1997 and was portrayed by 3 year-old Chihuahua, Gidget.[1] Carlos Alazraqui provided her Mexican accent and delivered the famous line, “¡Yo quiero Taco Bell!” which has stuck with me to this day. Within a year, the Chihuahua mascot became so popular that it was featured in two different commercials promoting the 1998 Godzilla movie. Taco Bell even distributed talking toys with new catchphrases like “Drop the chalupa!” and “Long live Gorditas!” My abuela actually collected most of the stuffed toys, and I remember having a personal affinity for the New Year’s one.

New Year's Chihuahua Toy (Taco Bell, 2000)

While the mascot instantly shot to stardom, its appearances in Taco Bell’s advertisements were numbered. After 3 years of the hungry Chihuahua, Taco Bell ended its commercials in mid-2000. Rumors spread that Gidget had died, whereas others claimed that Hispanic advocacy groups considered the taco-obssessed Chihuahua to be perpetuating Mexican stereotypes. In general, it seemed that the television commercials did little to boost food sales for the restaurant. Adding insult to injury, Taco Bell lost an over $30 million lawsuit in 2003 to Thomas Rinks and Joseph Shields: two men who had pitched the original mascot idea that were never paid by the fast food company.[2]  Gidget eventually passed away several years later in 2009 after suffering a stroke, marking a permanent end to the mascot’s presence in all media.

This was certainly a low point in Taco Bell’s past – one that came and went so quickly that much of the public was completely unaware it had occurred. Even so, the Chihuahua left enough of an impact that mentioning or referencing the former mascot can border the line between nostalgia and cultural insensitivity. Today, however, we recognize it as a part of marketing history and the toy line as relics of a promotion nearly forgotten. But no matter how much time passes, I will continue to declare my personal choice of post-midnight munchies by exclaiming “¡Yo quiero Taco Bell!”

Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace Promotion - Television Commercial (Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, 1999)

1.^ "Advertising Mascots - Animals". TV Acres. Archived from the original on February 5, 2013. Retrieved 2019-03-28.

2.^ "Michigan Creators Awarded $30.1 Million in Lawsuit over Ownership of Taco Bell's Chihuahua". thefreelibrary.com. 2003-06-04. Retrieved 2019-03-28.

3.^ "Taco Bell Chihuahua Dies". CBS News. July 22, 2009. Retrieved 2019-03-28.