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Chain LeaderEditorial Archives2004 — July — Storyboard

Double Exposure
El Pollo Loco spices up its image with separate American and Hispanic ads.

After a one-year advertising campaign in 2003 showed consumers that El Pollo Loco cooks its chicken on the grill, the QSR decided to heat things up. The Irvine, Calif.-based chain hired a 2-year-old firm from a field of 60 candidates to develop a higher-quality image linking the concept to its Mexican heritage. El Pollo Loco was a well-loved 5-year-old brand in Mexico when it immigrated to the United States in 1980.

El Pollo Loco
Irvine, Calif.
138 company, 179 franchised
2003 Systemwide Sales
$396 million
2004 Systemwide Sales
$409 million*
Average Unit Volume
$1.4 million
Average Check
Ad Budget
$7 million general, $3 million Hispanic
Ad Agencies
Krueger Communications, Los Angeles; cruz/kravetz:IDEAS, Los Angeles
Expansion Plans
4 to 8 company, 12 franchised units in 2005
*Chain Leader estimate

The resulting new “Taste the Fire” campaign is part of the privately held firm’s efforts to spice up its image as it expands into new markets.

The company launched new TV, radio and in-store ads in May in California, Arizona, Nevada and Texas. The campaign may expand with the chain into other media markets such as Chicago, which El Pollo Loco plans to enter later this year.

While neither the marketing team nor the ads themselves ever utter the word “healthy,” the emphasis on grilling makes its clear that the menu is different from the high-carb, fried products served at many of El Pollo Loco’s competitors.

Master of the Flame
But El Pollo Loco’s brand identity goes beyond being a nonfried alternative. The objective was to create a face for the brand that was likeable to both men and women, not a joke or cartoon.

“There is a fine line between having fun, having a sense of humor and being very approachable but not silly,” explains Karen Eadon, chief marketing officer. “We are serious, but with a name like El Pollo Loco, we have to be fun. We think El Caliente represents the brand.”

El Caliente is the name of the chain’s new handsome Hispanic spokescharacter, who has been dubbed the “Master of the Flame.” His persona is larger than that of a mere spokesman, drawing on stereotypes of passionate Latino men. “He is passionate about the products we make,” Eadon says.

In the four initial spots starring El Caliente, the Latin lovely shows off an 8-foot grill to the strains of “Guantanamera,” a well-known love song. He highlights the citrus marinade and special offers such as a free Mexican Caesar Salad with purchase, followed by the “Taste the Fire” tagline.

Two additional spots with the character may air this year, including one where El Caliente mans the drive-thru.

“El Caliente is passionate about chicken, and that makes him the embodiment of the brand,” says John Krueger, chief creative officer for Krueger Communications, El Pollo Loco’s Los Angeles-based ad agency.

A Different Accent
Yet as much as El Caliente may light the fire of mainstream American diners, El Pollo Loco is not counting on him to heat tastes for its Hispanic customers. Instead the company asked Los Angeles-based cruz/kravetz:IDEAS, its agency for its Hispanic account since 1998, to create a different ad campaign for the Hispanic market, which accounts for more than half of the restaurant’s target audience.

In one Spanish-language TV spot launched in April, a man having dinner for the first time at his girlfriend’s family’s house mistakes El Pollo Loco for homemade fare and kisses the girl’s mother passionately in appreciation. The objective is to drive home the idea that El Pollo Loco chicken is marinated in citrus spices, much like many in the Hispanic demographic savored in their home countries. El Caliente does not appear in the Hispanic spots.

In one of El Pollo Loco’s Spanish-language commercials, a young suitor is overcome with passion for the chicken and kisses his girlfriend’s mother in appreciation.

Many companies have found that simply translating an English ad into Spanish does not ring true for Hispanic customers. But few chains have created an entirely separate campaign for the Hispanic market, without a tagline or theme to share between the two.

“We are an unusual brand. Because we are not an American brand trying to appeal to Hispanics, because our products are so familiar to the Mexican consumer, our brand penetration is so much different than the general market,” says Eadon, explaining why management had few fears of confusing its audience with two different campaigns.

With a budget of just $10 million for both campaigns (about 70 percent is earmarked for the general market), El Pollo Loco is counting on its two-pronged approach to have a bigger-than-budget impact on its audience; the company won’t project sales.

Krueger says his new firm is up to the challenge. “We do not enter awards shows. Our focus is business first, not art,” he says. “That is a different way for highly creative agencies to work. But, frankly, it is freeing to concentrate on [the client] and not worry about Creativity magazine.”

That’s not to say that Krueger doesn’t have high hopes for El Caliente. “I think he is going to become a cult hero on his own without a lot of prodding,” he says. “Part of the reason that is going to happen is that he knows it is not about him, it is about the chicken.”

El Caliente
Length: 30 seconds
1. Voice-over: El Pollo Loco. 2. El Caliente: Listen. Just the sizzle arouses your senses.
3. When my fire embraces chicken...marinated in citrus and spices... 4. Chicken becomes your passion!
5. I am El Caliente!
Master of the El Pollo Loco Flame.
6. That is why women want to dine with me and men want to grill like me.
7. Voice-Over: Free your passion with a free Mexican Caesar Salad with any eight-, 10- or 12-piece meal. 8. El Caliente: Taste the fire.

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