Taco trouble

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The taco bell toll is rising. The departure this month of Kip Knight, Taco Bell's chief marketing officer, is the latest in a series of casualties that's included, since last fall, Taco Bell's president-chief concept officer, its ad agency, its popular advertising icon and its tagline. That's lots of upheaval-with little to show for it.

Indisputably, drastic measures were needed to prop up sales at the troubled fast-feeder. Last July, Taco Bell reported a precipitous 6% same-store sales decline in the second quarter. It reacted by jettisoning Omni- com Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day and handing the $204 million business, on an interim basis, to True North Communications' FCB Worldwide.

Gidget, the talking Chihuahua, was out; former Wendy's International exec Emil Brolick, Taco Bell's new president-chief concept officer, was in. Not long after, FCB was officially named agency of record, and the team behind Amazon.com's award-winning ad effort-including longtime DDB Chairman Keith Reinhard's son Matt-was put on the business.

"We are bringing fresh new thinking to the brand to better leverage Taco Bell's unique marketing strength," said David Novak, CEO of Taco Bell parent Tricon Global Restaurants, in July, conceding Taco Bell's value positioning had been co-opted by rivals. But it's now six months after Taco Bell's chain reaction of executive and agency shifts, and that new thinking still isn't clear. There is no sustained campaign from FCB-reportedly due to management squabbles with franchisees over direction.

Investors may have welcomed Mr. Novak's sweeping shifts-except for one thing: His dramatic changes have yielded less-than-dramatic results. Tricon forecast sales declines of 5% to 7% for Taco Bell in the fourth quarter. It's time Taco Bell settles on a marketing direction-and implements it-before more consumers run for the border.

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