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Chili’s hires advertising veteran Jesse Johnson as VP of marketing

The former Wieden+Kennedy director will take on the newly created role as Chili’s ramps up its marketing efforts.
Chili's exterior
Chili's is planning a renewed marketing push. / Photograph: Shutterstock

Chili’s Grill & Bar has hired its first VP of marketing as it looks to ramp up its marketing efforts. 

Jesse Johnson previously spent more than 14 years at advertising giant Wieden+Kennedy, where he worked with brands such as Procter & Gamble, Nike Golf and KFC. In his most recent role, director of growth, he helped expand the firm’s social media marketing group, Bodega.

He joins Chili’s as it reintroduces itself to consumers under new CEO Kevin Hochman.

“As we look to be more commercially aggressive, Jesse’s expertise and passion for building culturally relevant brands will be a driving force in putting Chili’s back in the cultural zeitgeist,” said CMO George Felix in a statement. 

Jesse Johnson

Jesse Johnson / Photo courtesy of Brinker International

Hochman, Felix and Johnson are familiar with one another from their involvement with KFC’s “Return of Colonel Sanders” marketing campaign in 2018. Hochman was president of KFC U.S. at the time, while Felix was the chain’s director of brand communications. Johnson worked on the campaign for Wieden+Kennedy. It was named Campaign of the Year that year by Ad Age, and Johnson was awarded Account Director of the Year.

When Hochman became CEO of Chili’s parent Brinker International in June, Felix was his first hire. Hochman himself is a former CMO. Now Johnson will be tasked with helping them communicate their vision for the 1,600-unit casual-dining chain.

“I have a deep-rooted love for the Chili's brand, and I can't wait to work with our marketing and leadership teams, as well as our Team Members, to elevate Chili's prominence,” Johnson said in a statement. "I'm excited to use my brand strategy and creative background to help Chili’s disrupt the casual dining space.”

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