FCB's Taco Bell success may give it edge in KFC review

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With its $224 million ad review, KFC wants to borrow sibling Taco Bell's recipe for success. That could bode well for Foote, Cone & Belding Worldwide, Chicago.

The Yum chain is pitting Interpublic Group of Cos.' FCB, agency for Taco Bell, against incumbent BBDO, New York. While KFC is struggling, Taco Bell is one of the best performers in the restaurant segment.

"KFC corporate sales have been rotten since the first of the year, certainly the last 12 weeks," said John R. Neal, vice chairman of KFC's National Council and Advertising Co-Op, and a franchisee. "BBDO needs a little fire under them and Taco Bell is doing well. Why not get some of their mystery dust?"

The agencies have about six weeks to present new creative to the chain's ad council. If neither comes up with the right idea, Mr. Neal said he's prepared to bring back outgoing pitchman Jason Alexander. The chain was in negotiations to bring Mr. Alexander, the former "Seinfeld" star, back for a third year but balked at his "very expensive" asking price, Mr. Neal said. Neither Mr. Alexander's spokesman nor lawyer returned calls seeking comment. The celebrity's final spot is set to air this week.

BBDO created the campaign, with the tagline, "There's fast food. Then there's KFC." The agency referred calls to KFC, which confirmed the review, first reported by AdAge.com last week. FCB declined to comment.

The review came after the chain rejected a concept presented by BBDO in June. The agency borrowed from the old joke about the chicken crossing the road to illustrate customers' preference for KFC. But in 1989, KFC used a "Cross the Road" campaign from Young & Rubicam, New York, that franchisees disliked, said Mr. Neal. He noted, too, that rival fast-feeder Wendy's International is using a "Why people cross the road" effort for its chicken nuggets.

"It fell on some old-time deaf ears," said Mr. Neal. "Wendy's had the same idea and beat us to it." He said the franchisee group would reconsider Mr. Alexander's contract "if I don't have anything better to see in the next four to six weeks."

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