Vada Hill, the executive who helped turn a Chihuahua into a fast-food icon, is leaving Taco Bell. He is believed to be taking a top marketing post at Fannie Mae, according to executives close to the situation.
Mr. Hill could not be reached for comment. Both Taco Bell Corp. and Fannie Mae spokesmen said they were unaware of the move late Friday.
Mr. Hill, 39, a former advertising agency executive, joined the nation's largest Mexican fast-food chain in 1996, and was promoted to chief marketing officer in July 1997. He reported to Peter Waller, chief concept officer.
Taco Bell is a $5 billion unit of Tricon Global Restaurants, parent to Pizza Hut and KFC.
FANNIE MAE OUTREACH EFFORT
The Fannie Mae Foundation, a non-profit funded by the Fannie Mae Corp., works to boost home ownership via links to non-profit organizations. GSD&M, Austin, Texas, handles the foundation ad account. Recently, a key initiative has been an outreach program with Black Entertainment Television and Univision.
According to Competitive Media Reporting, the Fannie Mae Foundation spent $32 million on measured media last year. The corporation spent $2.5 million.
Under Mr. Hill's watch, Taco Bell launched a $200 million campaign from new agency TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., that managed to break through the clutter of fast-food advertising, thanks to a Spanish-speaking dog with a singular craving for Mexican food.
"I want some Taco Bell," his rallying cry and the campaign's theme line, had an unexpectedly strong appeal to the chain's target customer, males ages 18 to 24.
CONSISTENT SALES INCREASES
The work, launched in December 1997, has fueled consistent sales increases, and has put an end to the chain's disappointing results and campaign changes of the mid-1990s. For the most recent quarter, ended April 28, same-store sales rose 4% The Chihuahua currently appears in Taco Bell's joint promotion with KFC and Pizza Hut tied to "Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace." Chihuahua toys have also added to the bottom line. Mr. Hill was named one of Advertising Age's Power 50 marketers last year.
A graduate of Harvard University and a native of Cincinnati, Mr. Hill's experience includes seven years at Procter & Gamble Co., and working for former U.S. Education Secretary Lamar Alexander on education reform.
He joined Taco Bell from BBDO Worldwide, Los Angeles, where he was senior VP-group account director. His accounts included Oral B, Glendale Federal Bank and Pizza Hut's western region. He initiated the shop's efforts for Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
Mitchell Speiser, an analyst with Lehman Bros., said the Taco Bell campaign has been an "integral part" of Taco Bell's recent success. "Ask any marketing person. It was one of the most successful icons established in 1998."
Contributing: Mercedes M. Cardona
Copyright June 1999, Crain Communications Inc.