Peter C. Waller, president of the Irvine-based fast-food chain since 1997, will be replaced by Emil Brolick, 52, a 12-year veteran at Wendy's International Inc. who has overseen product development and strategy at the burger chain.
The Chihuahua, known for its trademark slogan "Yo quiero Taco Bell," will not play a prominent role in future ad campaigns, though it might get a cameo role now and then, said David E. Novak, chairman of Taco Bell's parent company, Tricon Restaurants International.
The Los Angeles-based advertising agency of TBWA/Chiat Day introduced the Chihuahua shortly after winning a $200 million advertising account in 1997. Taco Bell said it would return all of its advertising to its former agency, Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide.
The talking Chihuahua turned into a national phenomenon in 1998. Taco Bell customers bought 13 million Chihuahua plush toys. The dog and its tag line became fodder for late-night talk show jokes.
The Chihuahua has faded from ads in recent months as Taco Bell decided to focus on its low-price menu items. Second-quarter results released Tuesday showed sales at Taco Bell restaurants open for at least a year dropped 6 percent.
"Last year's sales were flat, this year's are down. We recognized that some fundamental changes were necessary at Taco Bell," Novak said.
Tom Carroll, chief executive of TBWA/Chiat Day, said he was disappointed by the dismissal and felt ditching the Chihuahua would be a mistake.
"People like the dog," he said. "It's just that simple."
Tricon, which is based in Louisville, Ky., also owns Pizza Hut and KFC Corp.