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Krueger's El Caliente Spices Up El Pollo Loco

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NEW YORK El Pollo Loco will attempt to enliven its brand image by introducing the Antonio Banderas of chicken, El Caliente, its new spokesman and sex symbol whose passion and flair for cooking chicken is unrivaled.

A $7 million campaign will break this week on cable and local broadcasts and run through early 2005. In its first work for the chicken chain, independent shop Krueger in Torrance, Calif., created six spots bearing the new tag: "Taste the fire."

In one spot, the tall, dark and handsome El Caliente stands before his eight-foot-long grill commanding the flames to dance.

"Women want to dine with him. Men want to grill like him," said Karen Eadon, vice president and chief marketing officer at El Pollo Loco in Irvine, Calif. "It's a great personification of the brand and the care and pride we take in preparing our chicken. It's really going to put us on the map."

Krueger began working closely with the chain in August to help revamp its catering efforts. This helped them "grow to understand our business," said Eadon.

Eadon hopes the larger-than-life El Caliente will deliver outsized results for the chain's comparatively meager spend (category leader KFC spent $222 million on advertising last year, per TNS Media Intelligence/CMR). "Our challenge is that our creative has to be bigger than our dollar budgets are," Eadon said.

The 310-location El Pollo Loco has been growing steadily at about $30 million in sales per year. It had $396 million in sales last year, up from $364 million in 2002 and $339 million in 2001, per Technomic, Chicago.

A Hispanic campaign, via cruz/kravetz: Ideas, Culver City, Calif., broke last month. "Always as delicious as the first time" is the tagline.