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Taco Bell Fires Foote Cone, Splits Account : Advertising: Two agencies will plan new campaign for O.C.-based fast-food chain, re-emphasizing its value menu.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Taco Bell Corp. has ended its six-year relationship with the agency that gave it the “Run for the Border” campaign and is dividing its $150-million annual advertising budget between Dallas-based Richards Group and the New York and Orange County offices of Bozell Jacobs Kenyan and Eckard.

In leaving Foote Cone & Belding, which developed Taco Bell’s youth-oriented advertising and its “border” campaigns, Taco Bell appears to be changing its pitch.

“What you’ll see is a sort of ‘back to the future’ for us, a refocus on value,” said Blaise Mercadante, vice president of marketing services. (PepsiCo, the Mexican-style food chain’s parent company, was a merchandising sponsor of the “Back to the Future” movies, and its products were featured in the films.) “The new campaign will build on value (in) new, exciting ways,” Mercadante said.

Irvine-based Taco Bell has promoted a so-called value menu since 1988, when Foote Cone was signed to the advertising account, but the fast-food chain’s officials apparently felt that the low-price message has been downplayed in recent years.

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“It’s time to change the rules again and keep our competitors following our lead,” Kenneth T. Stevens, Taco Bell’s new president, said in July, when he announced that the ad campaign was up for grabs.

Officials at Foote Cone’s San Francisco office, which handled the Taco Bell account, could not be reached for comment. The office recently laid off two top creative executives after losing the $30-million Pacific Bell account, and although it has replaced the phone company with the same-sized E&J; Gallo varietal wine account, industry journal AdWeek magazine recently suggested that more layoffs could follow if Taco Bell bolted.

Because Taco Bell gave competing agencies only a month to come up with pitches for the account, Mercadante said, Bozell and Richards have not yet created a campaign. “That’s what we’ll be spending the next few months on,” he said.

Both agencies have experience in restaurant advertising. Bozell has done work for another PepsiCo subsidiary, Pizza Hut, and currently handles the $6-million annual account for Taco Bell’s Hot ‘n Now drive-through hamburger chain. Richards handles several restaurants, including the TGIFriday’s chain.

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Richards Group also devised the popular “we’ll keep a light on for you” campaign for Motel 6 that features the homey voice of essayist Tom Bodett.

Bozell, with $1.5 billion in annual billings as of May, includes Chrysler Corp., JC Penney & Co. and Merrill Lynch & Co. among its clients.

PepsiCo reportedly is concerned about lagging profits in its restaurant divisions--Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC, operator of the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain.

For the second quarter, weaker-than-expected profits from the restaurant operations helped depress PepsiCo’s results.

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At Taco Bell, operating profit fell 5% to $54.6 million from $57.4 million even as revenue jumped 19% to $761.7 million. The company, which posted $3.9 billion in revenue for 1993, says it expects continued worldwide growth to push its sales to $20 billion a year by the end of the decade.

In addition to its 4,500 Taco Bell fast food restaurants, the company owns Chevys Restaurants, a 48-unit chain of traditional full-service restaurants specializing in “Tex-Mex” food; and the 200-unit Hot ‘n Now hamburger chain.


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