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Taco Bell Signs Up Rocky and Bullwinkle for Commercials

March 26, 1993|ANNE MICHAUD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — If you thought Taco Bell had stars in its eyes when it hired songsters Hammer and Willie Nelson for its fast-food commercials, you were thinking small. Now the company has enlisted a couple of stars that it hopes will have an even more universal appeal: Rocky and Bullwinkle.

The vintage cartoon characters star in a series of commercials to begin airing Monday. They champion the virtues of tacos, protesting that "burgers are boring."

Taco Bell, based in Irvine, will spend $10 million on TV time for the Rocky and Bullwinkle spots, said Tim Ryan, senior vice president of marketing. The Mexican-style fast-food chain, a subsidiary of soft-drink giant Pepsico Inc., has 3,700 restaurants nationwide.

The commercials will air for six weeks, Ryan said, then Taco Bell will evaluate their success.

With Rocky and Bullwinkle, Taco Bell hopes to capitalize on two trends: the "retro" craze among teens, who have made '60s and '70s clothes and symbols cool again; and a nostalgia among baby boomers for their youth. The Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons began running in the late 1950s.

The commercials tested well among 18- to 34-year-olds, Taco Bell's target audience, said David Byers, vice president and management supervisor of Foote, Cone & Belding-San Francisco, the ad agency that created the spots.

"We wanted characters that had a certain level of historical equity," Byers said, "and would appeal to the widest possible audience. Rocky and Bullwinkle not only met these criteria but also out-tested other characters we were exploring."

Reruns of "Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" still air on many cable TV channels, and MCA-Universal Merchandising Inc. in Universal City, which licenses the characters, recently issued a popular video series.

For the Taco Bell commercials, Rocky and Bullwinkle archenemies Natasha and Boris are back too. In one of the three commercials, the evil pair offer the heroes a booby-trapped "MicBoris" burger. Protesting that "burgers are boring," Rocky and Bullwinkle flee to Taco Bell, leaving Boris and Natasha to be destroyed by their own plot.

Each commercial is entirely animated except for the food. The spots feature June Foray, the original voice of Rocky and Natasha. The cartoon series' animator, Robert Kurtz, did the animation for the commercials.

To augment the national advertising campaign, Taco Bell employees will be wearing Rocky and Bullwinkle caps and T-shirts.

MCA-Universal and Jay Ward Productions in Los Angeles, which created Rocky and Bullwinkle, have also agreed with Taco Bell's plans to issue point-of-sale materials, including posters, banners, tray liners, carryout bags and cups.

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