The Controversial History Behind The Slogan 'Yo Quiero Taco Bell'

Taco Bell is the undisputed king of late-night stoner food. Maybe that's not where the company started, but we're here now, and probably no fast-food brand has adjusted quite so nimbly to its new reality. This doesn't just apply to fast food mad science creations like the Doritos Locos Taco and nacho fries, or the Volcano Menu, either. This is a company that based an entire ad campaign around "Fourth Meal," which all but explicitly said to customers "come here late at night when you're hammered and order enough tacos to fell an elk."

But Taco Bell's ad work used to be different, and not in a good way. If you weren't around for it in the late '90s, you may not be aware of the "Yo Quiero Taco Bell" campaign and its chihuahua mascot, played by a dog named Gidget. But those ads were everywhere back then. In hindsight, the ads also had a lot of issues that white audiences largely ignored at the time. 

Not everyone was ignoring the problems with the commercials, though. The Latinx community wasn't thrilled about the whole thing.

The commercials were popular, but not everyone was laughing

On its surface, "Yo Quiero Taco Bell" might seem like a perfectly fine slogan. After all, it just means "I want Taco Bell." In terms of benign brand messaging, it's essentially the food version of "I Like Ike." The issue here was the commercials themselves, which featured a talking dog named Gizmo, voiced by Carlos Alazraqui. Gizmo loved Taco Bell and would walk right past a female Chihuahua to get the chain's food. (There was some variation, but this was the persistent theme.)

There were issues aplenty here. Equating an entire group of people with a dog breed is Not Great, as civil rights activist Mario Obledo made clear at the time, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1998. There were loud calls for boycotts and significant public backlash from pretty much every corner of the Latinx community. And Taco Bell didn't respond particularly well, at least at first.

Even though the initial commercial was met with a vocally cold reception, Taco Bell still put out a later one featuring Gizmo wearing Che Guevara's beret. In addition to really pissing off the Cuban-American community, per The Buffalo News, the connection seemed to be thrown in there for no other reason than "Che Guevara and tacos both come from south of the American border." Taco Bell's advertising director trying to spin the controversy by saying the company "wanted a heroic leader to make it a massive taco revolution" didn't exactly help.

Taco Bell had a history of issues with its ad campaigns

The "Yo Quiero Taco Bell" campaign wasn't even where Taco Bell's issues with offensive depictions of Latin American communities began. Prior to the "Yo Quiero" campaign, Taco Bell ran an ad campaign around the slogan "Make a Run for the Border." Arguably worse was that for a time, the Taco Bell logo and branding featured a sleeping Mexican wearing a sombrero, notes WFAE. But "Yo Quiero" was where things really came to a head for the company.

Ultimately, despite its popularity, this ad run wound up costing Taco Bell money. In addition to a successful $42 million lawsuit alleging Taco Bell had stolen the chihuahua-themed campaign idea, the company also lost around 6% yearly revenue from 1997-1999 until it discontinued the campaign in 2000. Associating your food with dogs isn't the best branding strategy, and the backlash over the offensive nature of the campaign certainly didn't help.

Despite its entry into the cultural zeitgeist, the entire "Yo Quiero" ad campaign has to be considered a significant failure. When an ad run ends with a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, things probably didn't work out great.