Who can forget the classic commercials TBWA Chiat/Day created for Taco Bell which starred a beady-eyed, talking chihuahua?
Apparently, U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals cannot, for today they finally ruled in the case of of Taco Bell Corp. vs. TBWA.
Two guys in Michigan, who created the character, sued Taco Bell and were awarded $42 million for breach-of-contract. Taco Bell then sued TBWA, but lost the suit today. Taco Bell was held to be responsible for paying the Michigan guys the $42 million.
This means the Michigan guys can pull into their local Taco Bell drive-thru and order 35,294,117 crunchy tacos!
Read all about it here.
(I'd just like to say that I had a dream in 1986 about a pink bunny and batteries.)
Jerry Fields, who is a freelance copywriter
I'm an infrequent reader of your smart, and entertaining site, but I do enjoy it.
I don't suppose you're planning on adding an addendum to the Taco Bell story, but I'd just like to give Chuck Bennett (and his partner on the project, Clay Williams?) the credit they deserve.
Using a Chihuahua is not an idea. A chihuaha is simply the beginning of an idea. Executing the campaign as well as Chuck and Clay did is what made it a fully formed, entertaining, and distinct idea.
Everyday we see a parade of new personification campaigns, and as a device it's nothing new. In the 1960s Leo Burnett built an entire agency around talking, non-humans: Milton the Talking Toaster, Charlie the Tuna, the Jolly Green Giant, Poppin Fresh, etc.... Speedy Alka-Seltzer, a talking tablet, sprung to bubbling life in the 40s, or thereabouts.
What made all of these distinct were their personalities, and the situations in which they were placed. Crispin's black, talking Beetle is certainly a cool, and distinct, personality/campaign--all due respect to My Mother the Car and Herbie the Love Bug.
We're all human, but it's the details, large and small, which make us originals.
Reverse personification, "Hi, I'm an Apple. And I'm a Mac," is a good example of distinct character development that defines the campaign as original. Chuck and Clay's Taco Bell work was no less well defined. The dog had attitude, expressed in how he dressed and what he said. It could have been a lap dog, it wasn't.
Sit-coms are the same in that they nearly all begin with identical foundational tools, but grow themselves into unique worlds. Consider: A husband who frequently gets himself into trouble. (George Jefferson, Al Bundy, Peter Griffin.) A wife/relative/neighbor/friend that has to bail him out. (Louise. Peggy, Lois) A wacky ensemble cast around which to build parallel story lines.
The Jeffersons, Married with Children and Family Guy are as unique as "the east side," suburban Chicago and the animated parts of Irish Catholic Rhode Island.
Using the same component parts, sit coms even attract different audiences. God may not be in evidence in many places, but he/she/it is very much in the creative details.
I have a friend who some years before pitched a Chihuahua campaign to Taco Bell. I've never seen the campaign. It might have been great, it might have stunk, but the fact that Taco Bell has seen so many campaigns built around a Chihuahua underscores the fact that a dog, by itself, is only a dog. Just one piece of a campaign puzzle. Nothing more.
The two Michigan lawsuit lottery winners don't deserve a dime, let alone 42 million, or whatever the sum, unless Taco Bell/Chuck and Clay, had copied their Chihuahua comic strip. I haven't seen the comic, but I do know Chuck well. He is an original. Nothing borrowed about him, or how he thinks. This seems to be verified in the courts seeing fit to protect Chiat/Day.
On a slightly related note, there is currently a suit against Chiat, and perhaps Apple, involving the use of a Marshal Mathers song. I'm sure you've read about it. A close friend of my father's handles some business affairs for Marshal, and has brought the suit, which apparently has not gone well for Chiat in the first legal skirmish. I don't know if the case has merit or not. I don't know the details. Said lack of knowledge will not prevent me from taking sides, however. I think more highly of Lee than my father's friend, so who needs facts to arrive at a verdict? Maybe we should send a Chihuahua to Michigan to bite the ankles of both the two guys who collected all the coin from Taco Bell as well as Marshal Mathers and his watchdog manager. It all sounds (slim) shady to me.
When I asked Jerry for permission to post these comments of his, he filled me in on his background and what he's up to now:
If you're foggy as to who I am, here's some background: I was a writer with Chiat L.A. in '89 and '90. I worked with Michael Smith, Pam Cunningham, Victoria Felice and Chuck Bennett. I'm the guy who came from NYC to join in the reunion festivities.
I work freelance, and have done so since 1994 in fact, but of late have decided that I'd like to do more than ride in, save the day, they riding back down the elevator to the cries of, "Shane. Shane. We love you, Shane. Come back, Shane!" so I am now receptive to any interesting staff jobs that might pop up. Given how expansive your world is, perhaps one of your friends, from a continent near or far, will ask if you know of someone who fits my background. My site is http://www.jmfields.com. It's a great site. Check out the opening of the "Tragic TV" section.