McGarrah/Jessee has won the review for Taco Cabana's $8-10 million account.
The Austin, Texas, agency pitched against two other Texas shops: Launch Partnership, Irving, and Integer Group, Dallas. Incumbent Anderson Advertising of San Antonio was not invited to defend the business.
Consultant Peter Mitchell, Dallas, managed the review process.
Agency principal Mark McGarrah said the pitch assignment was to develop a new brand positioning for the client.
"We think it's a unique and special concept that over time has lost some of its specialness," McGarrah said. "There's an opportunity to bring that back and make it different again."
The San Antonio-based dining chain wants to continue representing a niche somewhere between fast food and casual dining.
Said Taco Cabana vice president of marketing Brian Maysent, "[Analysts] really want to put us in the new fast-casual category, but we wanted to see if we could capitalize on a more natural positioning."
Specifically, the company is interested in advertising concepts that focus on its San Antonio roots and Mexican heritage. Maysent said the Dallas-area finalists did not seem to pick up on the "roots" positioning as well as McGarrah/Jessee.
"Maybe because [agency co-founder] Bryan Jessee is from San Antonio ... they just had a clearer sense of the brand," Maysent said.
Taco Cabana, which opened its first Mexican patio cafe in 1978, currently operates or franchises more than 130 restaurants. Texas is its largest market; other stores are located in Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Georgia and Indiana.
McGarrah said the agency's new account team visited all of the client's major markets before assembling its pitch.
"It was a huge team effort in terms of the number of people involved and the research that went in on the front end," he said. Key players included head of account planning Jenny Buschhorn and account manager Jennifer Abbott.
Taco Cabana currently uses "Experience real Tex-Mex" as a tagline. Maysent called the tag "not long for this world."
New television and radio advertising will break in spring 2002.
In addition to branding, McGarrah/Jessee will be involved in the introduction of several new menu items that will "focus on more traditional Mexican products," according to Maysent.