Whiplash Strikes In Taco John’s Effort

First there were the Spongmonkeys singing off-key for Quizno’s. Now, regional fast-food chain Taco John’s is hoping to stir up buzz in a similarly eccentric manner with Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey, the star of new ads from Kerker that break this week.

In the initial spot from the Minneapolis independent, Whiplash rides a dog through urban and country landscapes, coming to the rescue of a customer who has dropped his burrito. As the sombrero-wearing primate passes off the burrito, the customer says, “Thanks, little monkey dude.”

Other spots in the effort, tagged, “A whole lot of Mexican,” will run in a serial format, said Kerker cd Chris Preston.

The ads seek to show the company’s passion for its product, said Brian Dixon, vp of marketing for the Cheyenne, Wyo.-based chain, which has stores in 27 states. Dixon said that Whiplash, an attempt to differentiate Taco John’s from competitors such as Del Taco and Baja Fresh, is a gamble for the chain, which had sales of $204 million last year, up 2 percent from 2002, according to Technomic. “This will either be regarded as brilliant, or our franchisees will attack,” he said. “If all [customers] remember is the monkey and the dog, then we’ve failed.”

Taco John’s share of the Mexican fast-food market is about 2.5 percent, according to Technomic; Taco Bell is No. 1 with a nearly 70 percent share.

Billings were not disclosed. Taco John’s spent $3 million on ads last year, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Previous work focused on the chain’s fresh ingredients.