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Taco Bell Names Yum Veteran Brian Niccol Top Marketing Exec

Tasked With Turning Around Sluggish U.S. Sales

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Yum Brands' Taco Bell has appointed Brian Niccol as the chain's chief marketing and innovation officer, a new role for the organization. He is expected to take on the role Oct. 24.

A spokesman confirmed the news, saying the new role was created to build a better and more relevant Taco Bell brand through an integrated, consumer-centric approach. He'll be responsible for integrating all marketing, food innovation, consumer insights, media, brand reputation and public-relations efforts.

Brian Niccol
Brian Niccol

The announcement comes less than two months after David Ovens left the CMO post for personal reasons and returned to Australia with his family.

Mr. Niccol most recently was general manager at sibling company Pizza Hut, and prior to that role, he served as CMO, a role he took on in 2007. Mr. Niccol joined Pizza Hut in 2005 as VP-strategy. He previously spent a decade at Procter & Gamble Co. filling in a variety of brand-management positions.

Yum's U.S. same-store sales declined 3% in the most recent quarter, which includes declines of 2% at Taco Bell, 3% at Pizza Hut, and 3% at KFC, though the company's international business has fared much better. Taco Bell is bracing for more slumping sales this year, but is predicting a turnaround in 2012. During the earnings call, Yum chief David Novak said Taco Bell is planning on unveiling a breakthrough product next year that will "reinvent the taco," as well as rolling out more items for its breakfast menu.

Taco Bell's sales have been sluggish this year, and the chain largely blamed the lawsuit that claimed Taco Bell's advertising was deceptive because its ground beef was made up mostly of substances other than beef. The suit prompted Taco Bell to launch a campaign from agency DraftFCB to fend off the charges. The suit was withdrawn in April.

But as Taco Bell was responding to the lawsuit with marketing, a letter from the Franchise Management Advisory Council (Franmac) surfaced that said, among other things, the council wanted Taco Bell to re-evaluate the DraftFCB agency relationship.

Taco Bell has since stood by the Interpublic Group of Cos. agency, and a Taco Bell spokesman said today that there are no plans to change agencies.

Mr. Novak in July turned to Yum's agencies -- WPP's Ogilvy & Mather and Interpublic siblings DraftFCB and the Martin Agency -- for a brainstorming session to help boost U.S. sales for the company's entire portfolio.

Taco Bell in the first half of 2011 spent about $140 million on U.S. measured media, according to Kantar. In 2010 it spent about $275 million, up from $247 the prior year.

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