Dorri Partain

“Feliz Navidad, amigos!”

Taco Bell restaurant’s most popular ad campaign was also one of its most controversial, leading to a boycott of the brand.

An unnamed pooch, only known as the Taco Bell chihuahua, first appeared in television commercials in September 1997. A five year old Gidget, trained by her owner Sue Chipperton, was voiced by Carlos Alazraqi and spoke a combination of English and Spanish.

The ad campaign was conceived by TBWA, an international ad agency based in New York City and featured the tag line, “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” (I love Taco Bell). Following the initial popularity of the chihuahua character, Taco Bell began offering a series of stuffed toy versions that would play a short recording when a button inside the toy was pressed.

Manufactured by Applause toys of Woodland Hills, Calif., each version wore a black ribbon “collar” imprinted with the slogan “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” and were only available for purchase at the restaurant.

Native to Mexico, the chihuahua breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1904.

Named for the Mexican state of Chihuahua, the breed dates to the times of the Toltecs and Aztecs when a native canine, the techichi, was bred to be smaller and lighter; the average chihuahua weighs about six pounds.

The advertising campaign came under fire as stereotyping those of Mexican heritage; a boycott of the brand in 1999 eventually led to a drop of 20% of Taco Bell’s sales margins, a change in management, and the Taco Bell chihuahua was discontinued, last appearing in commercials in July 2000.

The chihuahua wearing a Santa hat has a sound chip that says “Feliz Navidad, amigos!” and a version wearing a Happy New Year 2000 party hat were both offered in 1999 and sold for $2.99 each with a Taco Bell purchase.