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Taco Bell’s chief marketing nonconformist steps down

No reason was given for the departure of Marisa Thalberg, who will remain a strategic adviser. Her future career plans were not revealed.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Taco Bell has restructured its marketing leadership following the departure of Marisa Thalberg, a key figure behind many of the Mexican chain’s attention-grabbing acts of nonconformity during the past four years.

No reason was given for Thalberg’s exit as global chief brand officer. Nor were her future plans revealed, though Taco Bell said the former cosmetic industry executive would serve the quick-service chain as a strategic adviser. Simultaneous with her work at Taco Bell and Estee Lauder, her employer prior to joining Yum Brands, the Ivy League grad served as president of Executive Moms, a group she founded for female executives who are also mothers. 

Her departure from Taco Bell came about a week after Yum announced that Adidas veteran Mark King would become CEO of the brand, succeeding Artie  Starrs, who will move over to the top job with Pizza Hut, a sister division. 

A new CFO of Yum, Chris Turner, starts this month.

Thalberg’s former duties will be redistributed between Melissa Friebe, Taco Bell’s SVP of marketing, and Tracee Larocca, SVP of advertising and brand engagement. Taco Bell is reportedly not searching for a replacement for Thalberg.

Her split with the company came as a surprise to outside observers, in part because of her apparent success at Taco Bell, an impression not disputed by the brand. “Over the last four years, Marisa has helped lead record-breaking sales in a highly competitive category, all while transforming Taco Bell into a culture-centric lifestyle brand,” Julie Masino, president of Taco Bell’s North American operations, said in a statement. “Her instinct for cultural relevance led to legendary moments that included a partnership with Forever 21, T-Mobile and, of course, The Bell Hotel.”

The Bell: A Taco Bell Hotel and Resort was conceived as a way of stressing the brand’s cheeky market position. For a limited time beginning this Friday, a property in Palm Springs, Calif., is adopting the identity for a full immersion in Taco Bell culture. Everything, from the rooms to the menus, will be given “a Taco Bell twist,” the chain said in announcing the venture.

 “The Bell stands to be the biggest expression of the Taco Bell lifestyle to date,” Thalberg said at the time.

She joined the chain in May 2015 as its first chief brand engagement officer. She was named CMO nine months later, and global chief brand officer in January 2018.

“We wish her all the best and thank her for all that she has done,” said Masino.

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