He succeeds Vada Hill, who accepted a job late last month as chief marketing officer of the Federal National Mortgage Association, commonly known as Fannie Mae (AA, May 31).
Mr. Knight, 42, spent the past nine years in KFC Corp.'s international division, most recently as VP-marketing. Both are units of Tricon Global Restaurants.
"It's a wonderful brand with tremendous upside opportunities," Mr. Knight told Advertising Age. "I've got two sons, 12 and 14, and they are heavy Taco Bell users. They are thrilled their father is going to work on the Taco Bell brand."
He joins Taco Bell July 5 at a time of renewed vigor for the brand fueled by the popular advertising campaign from TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa Del Rey, Calif., starring a Spanish-speaking Chihuahua. The campaign, with the dog's single-minded and amusing lust for food, has struck a particular chord with teenage boys since its December 1997 launch.
Last week, the work won a Grand Effie, the top award, from the New York chapter of the American Marketing Association.
Mr. Knight will be in charge of an estimated $200 million U.S. media budget, the third-largest in the U.S. fast-food business behind McDonald's Corp. and Burger King Corp. He reports to Peter Waller, Taco Bell's chief concept officer and a former colleague at KFC International.
Mr. Knight spent a decade in brand management at Procter & Gamble Co., with stints on Ivory soap, Spic 'n Span and the fat substitute Olestra, before joining KFC.
TWEAK THE DOG
The Chihuahua campaign may see some tweaks in the future. The quirky dog will remain the star of TV spots, but may have additional characters to keep him company.
Shooting starts today on a new TV spot with the hungry pooch stopping traffic in New York's Times Square as he's mesmerized by a tempting image of Taco Bell