- Taco Bell's Global Chief Brand Officer Marisa Thalberg is resigning after four years working with the chain, according to a report in Ad Age. Taco Bell will not seek a CMO for the time being.
- Thalberg's duties will be split between Melissa Friebe, SVP of marketing, and Tracee Larocca, SVP of advertising and brand engagement, per the report. Thalberg plans to retain an advisory role at parent company Yum Brands.
- Thalberg quickly climbed the ranks at Taco Bell, starting as its first chief brand engagement officer in 2015, earning the chief marketing officer title a year later and then jumping to global brand chief last year. Under her tenure, Taco Bell consistently proved a top performer for Yum Brands. Taco Bell posted a 7% increase in same-stores sales growth, a key metric for restaurant brands, in Q2 earnings results released last week.
Thalberg's departure continues a long streak of disruption impacting top marketing roles this year, even when sales performance and innovation remain strong. At Taco Bell, Thalberg oversaw a number of initiatives around experiential and mobile marketing that generated consumer buzz and helped to shape the chain into "a culture-centric lifestyle brand," as Julie Masino, North American president, phrased it in a statement to Ad Age.
Recent efforts under Thalberg's stewardship include The Bell Hotel, a refurbished hotel in Palm Springs, California, themed around the brand and its popular menu items. Reservations for the quirky getaway sold out within two minutes of going live earlier this summer. Taco Bell in July also partnered with T-Mobile on co-branded "T-MoBell" pop-ups that built on an earlier promotion the two brands ran around the Super Bowl, and dished out free merchandise, tacos and exclusive menu items to visitors.
Through these campaigns and others, Thalberg proved she had a command of the types of experience-led, high-impact marketing that's favored among millennials, a crucial consumer segment for fast food chains combating the shift toward healthier, more natural dining options. She leaves Taco Bell on a high note, capped off with healthy Q2 sales figures, but also as the company undergoes broader changes in leadership.
Late last month, Yum Brands announced it had appointed Mark King as Taco Bell's CEO. In a press release, Taco Bell said King, an Adidas veteran, would take charge of driving global brand strategy and growth, along with managing franchise operations. Upon appointing Thalberg as global brand chief last year, Taco Bell described her then-new role as overseeing "e-commerce, internal communications, events and ensuring global consistency of the marketing strategy of fueling the cult of Taco Bell."
Taco Bell's switch-up in marketing leadership is remarkably similar to one recently enacted by fellow fast food brand McDonald's. Last month, McDonald's confirmed that Global CMO Silvia Lagnado was departing the company. Like Thalberg, Lagnado had been with her brand since 2015, and like Taco Bell, McDonald's will not look for a direct replacement. Instead, the burger giant will divvy up Lagnado's responsibilities between two new SVP roles focused on global marketing and marketing technology, respectively.
High-profile CMO departures, and the subsequent retirement or reworking of the position, have become a common theme this year outside of the restaurant category. Ride-hailing rivals Uber and Lyft both parted ways with their CMOs after underwhelming debuts trading on the public markets and amid larger restructurings.
In June, Johnson & Johnson's consumer products division split with Alison Lewis, its first-ever CMO, as part of a cost-cutting push and managerial realignment. Lewis worked with brands like Neutrogena, Aveeno and Tylenol for six years, and J&J has no plans to replace her.