Company bids a not-so-fond farewell to a rough year in 2015 with new advertising campaign
I suspect few organizations were happier to see 2015 from their rear-view mirror than Subway.
Last April, Russell Taylor, who headed the Jared Foundation – named for long-time Subway pitchman Jared Fogle – was arrested on child pornography charges. Taylor was formally charged in early May and attempted suicide while in police custody. He recovered and was subsequently sentenced to 27 years in prison.
In July, the same month the company celebrated its 50th anniversary, law enforcement officers from the FBI and other agencies served a search warrant at Fogle’s home. Fogle, who gained national fame after attributing his nearly 250-pound weight loss to eating Subway sandwiches, accepted a plea deal on charges he had sex with minors, and distributed and received child pornography. In November, a judge sentenced Fogle to more than 15 years in prison.
In September, Fred DeLuca, the company’s co-founder, died, two years after being diagnosed with leukemia. That same month, the company’s chief marketing officer announced plans to leave the company (a move he said was unrelated to the Fogle situation).
In addition, annual U.S. sales and per store sales reportedly declined last year.
Of course the darkest cloud over the world’s biggest fast-food chain was the Fogle crisis. While investigators said they found no evidence Subway “had any idea of Fogle’s illegal activities” and Fogle himself said Subway officials “didn’t know what I was doing,” the impact will likely be felt for some time. One company official told U.S. Today two years ago Jared may have contributed to as much as 50 percent of Subway’s growth since his first commercial aired 15 years ago.
Subway’s initial PR response when federal agents first raided Fogle’s home last summer generally received high grades. They moved quickly to announce they were suspending their relationship with Fogle, they removed all references to Jared from their website and they didn’t speculate as to his innocence or guilt.
But, when they officially cut ties with Fogle, some felt their media statement explaining “we no longer have a relationship with Jared and have no further comment” appeared to have been written by their lawyer as opposed to their PR team.
After a couple of months of relative quiet, Subway is out with its new advertising campaign for 2016 called “Founders,” which focuses on DeLuca and the chain’s fellow co-founder Peter Buck. The first TV spot debuted in late December during NFL telecasts.
According to Advertising Age, the new campaign tells the story of how DeLuca, with a $1,000 loan from Buck, started the chain in 1965 with the simple of idea of creating fresh sandwiches “at a time when artificial foods and gimmicks were all the rage.”
The new approach is said to focus less on celebrities and discounts, with the oft-used “Five Dollar Footlong” jingle now history.
I was never a big fan of the various Jared campaigns, but I enjoyed some of the company’s more recent “Famous Fans of Subway” lineup of celebrities and sports stars, in particular ads featuring Major League Baseball standouts Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout.
The first Founders spot, which is part of a new round of ads using the tagline “Founded on Fresh,” didn’t do much for me. It appears the company decided to play it safe and in the words of Fortune, “employ a popular marketing campaign that many brands have tried before: talk about the heritage and original purpose of the company.”
The chain, which is reportedly still be debating the fate of its exiting “Eat Fresh” tagline, is also continuing to make numerous menu improvements. Subway recently announced plans to serve only eggs from cage-free hens across its 30,000 North American locations. It is also introducing a rotisserie chicken sandwich that is “completely antibiotic-free” this spring and working to remove all artificial colors, flavors and preservatives from North American menu items by 2017.
It will be interesting to see how the company moves forward with its branding and public relations efforts in the coming months, and what impact all of this will have on sales and new franchises.