The nation's top Mexican fast-food chain last week notified Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, it is putting its $150 million account up for review-a move foreshadowed by recent executive turnover at the agency.
Taco Bell is inviting FCB to the review along with the Richards Group, Dallas; Cole & Weber, Seattle; and Bozell, New York and Orange County, Calif.
A decision is expected by Labor Day.
"While we have seen tremendous growth of our business in the last several years, we believe it's time to take a fresh approach with our advertising to maintain our competitive leadership profile," said Ken Stevens, promoted last week to president of Taco Bell from exec VP-marketing, technology and non-traditional restaurant growth.
Mr. Stevens inherited the president's title from CEO John Martin, simultaneously promoted to chairman.
FCB's San Francisco office captured the account from Tracy-Locke, Los Angeles, in April 1989 and is credited with starting Taco Bell's highly successful value menu.
But FCB's recent high-profile personnel changes indicate Taco Bell has been unhappy with the agency's work on "Cross the border," a 7-month-old campaign focusing on product quality rather than Taco Bell's successful 5-year-old price promotion strategy.
Taco Bell growth has slowed, and PaineWebber analyst Emmanuel Goldman is predicting second-quarter same-store sales will be flat as the fast-food chain wrestles to redefine its market position. The chain's sales climbed 18% to $3.9 billion in 1993.
In recent weeks, a confused Taco Bell has hedged its "Cross the border" bets by reverting back to price promotion, with FCB ads touting the chain's 59 cents, 79 cents and 99 cents menu.
Sources say FCB, a strong creative shop that has won plaudits for its work for Levi, Strauss & Co. and Coors Brewing Co.'s Zima ClearMalt, hasn't been comfortable handling such a large, retail account.
Early last month, Robin Raj, the senior VP-group creative director who helped launch the new "Cross the border" tagline, was taken off of the account after only a year. He now is being considered for other positions within FCB.
The creative group then moved out of FCB's spinoff "Green Street Shop" and back under the direction of Mike Koelker, exec VP-executive creative director at the main agency.
In addition, Dominic Whittles was promoted to group management supervisor, succeeding Thomas C. Cotton, who moved to FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York, on the AT&T account.
FCB executives were unavailable for comment.