It’s a safe bet no one envies Subway’s marketing team – or its reported new CMO – in the wake of the unprecedented implosion of its longtime spokesman. The brand is facing a situation that will likely become a reputation management case study for years to come. While Subway wasn’t complicit in the actions of its longtime spokesman, Jared Fogle, the range of responses from branding experts – from laying low to undergoing a major shift and seemingly everything in between – underscores the complexity and delicate nature of the issue at hand.
Whether the Subway brand is able to rebound and reinvent itself or it becomes a late night talk show punchline for years to come remains to be seen. But here are 33 branding experts on their Subway strategies.
Tactic 1: Do Some Soul Searching
Jon Bailey, Chief Relationships Officer at The i.d.e.a. Brand
The danger with spokespeople is they become an embodiment of the brand and you’re charging them with really becoming the front face of your brand. That comes with consequences.
For Subway, it worked well for many years, and when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work. It’s not like having a brand ambassador that is sort of there because they love your brand and are genuine, authentic people. When you pay a spokesperson to be the front of your brand, there are all kinds of consequences.
If I was the CMO of Subway, the first thing I would do is completely disassociate from that spokesperson and second would be to refocus on the brand and what their brand really means to consumers and the public in general.
When you ask a spokesperson to embody the brand, it devalues any other component of what the brand really means – it becomes about that person. What they must do now is reintroduce us to the things that made the brand so wonderful in the first place, which has nothing to do with the person and everything to do with the product they sell.
If the company’s positioning platform is “Eat Fresh,” then I would suggest they do everything to support the concept of eating fresh and what does freshness mean. Don’t even try to attach it to a person, but why people like to go to Subway in the first place and why they choose it over other options. It boils down to the product they have, not who is selling it for them.
They’ve invested so much [in “Eat Fresh”]. It’s a strong line and relevant to what they do…a new campaign needs to be developed quickly that supports their position, but it can still be “Eat Fresh.” The campaign and creative, messaging and communication of those things will really set them apart now. It’s not about a person or Jared’s story.
At his peak, the story resonated with people. Here’s a guy who ate at Subway and reengineered his life. That’s the reason people connected to the story in the first place. They saw themselves in him and could relate. It made him famous.
If that’s the premise, there’s something there in “Eat Fresh.” It means, “Be healthy.” You can go to Subway and be healthy. I would not step away. It’s the communication of that – tell that story to people in a new way that they have to focus on now.
The best thing they can do in this situation is to focus on what they do best and disassociate themselves from someone else telling the story.
Jorge Aguilar, Executive Director of Brand Strategy at Landor Associates
It’s a tough position to be in. I would have to think about it from two perspectives: One, from the employees and, two, from clients and consumers.
In the first, I assume Jared was a big figure internally and had a big presence in company culture. I would think hard about how can we make sure that this doesn’t continue to hamper the culture and make a commitment to fix it.
As head of marketing, I would also consider making a corporate commitment to ending any sort of child porn or sex trafficking and create a foundation, which is relevant to everyone.
From an external perspective, I would ask if we need to rely again on a spokesperson. There are many ways we can count in which spokespeople haven’t worked out. And this is worse than Tiger Woods.
“What does my brand really stand for?” That’s the question the CMO needs to be asking him or herself, without Jared and the success story about losing weight.
This is something that can only live in the digital age. This is why you shouldn’t rely on a single person given the technological environment we live in. It’s tough to think about another case as viral as this one, but I believe the story is just unfolding. As the case goes through, I’m sure we’re going to learn more and it will continue to impact the brand.
From a marketing perspective, this is a wakeup call for Subway. Subway’s sales are declining and, to me, it’s in a really dangerous position of declining relevance. You don’t go to Subway because of the freshest ingredients or for the service and now because of this, they don’t have a purpose that connects to consumers. It was weight management and has evolved to wellness, but they are way behind in that journey.
This is an opportunity for the CMO and executive team to look in the mirror and ask what they truly stand for and how to regain traction. There’s an opportunity that can result from a tragic situation.
Scott Davis, Chief Growth Officer at Prophet
If I were Subway, I would look at this as a moment in time in which we can (and are most likely expected to) rethink the entire value proposition — from offering to experience to digital.
If you look at McDonald’s or Burger King or Domino’s, they have all had major events that have forced them to re-look at their value proposition over the past ten years. The timing is right for Subway to do the same.
The fast casual/QSR space has shifted so dramatically over the past five years with the rise of chains like Chipotle, Panera, Five Guys, and Shake Shack. Changes in consumers’ buying habits and preferences, in addition to the prominent role of digital, all factor into making these new generation offerings so compelling and relevant. Subway needs to take stock of how they compare with this competition, decide where they want to be in five years and move forward with some dramatic changes.
The good news for Subway is they are on trend with both the healthy eating messaging and the personalization craze – two things that Millennials and Gen X highly value. However, they also value the overall experience, the connection to doing something better for the world or the community, and the integration of digital into all aspects of their lives. Building a brand in this context is critical.
Subway has to make its brand more relevant by incorporating the things consumers want into their offerings. In fact, Subway cannot think of brand relevance as a static goal, but an ongoing pursuit of earning and re-earning loyalty with every single encounter they have with a new or existing customer.
Given the Jared situation that fully came to light last week, Subway has to equip the employees and owner/operators at their 44,000 locations with a way to respond to questions about what happened. They have tens of thousands of mini-PR representatives on the ground, who may feel unequipped and marginalized if they are not provided guidance on how to address the situation.
Subway needs to acknowledge that the situation happened and provide their employees on the front lines a way of talking about it in a proactive light. For example, Subway could set up a program to give back and show compassion towards the situation and victims. Subway should do this quietly and respectfully, but this is the kind of action from the company employees could share if they face questions from the public.
Daniel Lobring, Managing Director of Communications at rEvolution
I think Subway needs to return to its roots and focus on the food, the quality of its ingredients, support of a healthy diet, etc.
Focus on the positives.
Eric Villain, Managing Director of Brand and Customer Experience at GfK
I would focus on the food, to be honest. I would have ingredient messages, new product introductions and I would focus on some of the things that their competitors are doing, like the campaigns with different messages throughout…and be very tactical.
In lieu of figuring out where they need to be from an overall brand perspective/voice, which could take longer, I would immediately focus on the food, on talent and a variety of people being seen, eating and whatever with Subway…I would expect they have some kind of brand tracking program right now to get consistent and weekly feedback on their sentiment and I’m sure they would also get current and weekly feedback on social and monitoring their brand image from that point of view. That would be my initial recommendation.
For the time being, until they actually can figure out very specifically – and they have to do it quickly – what that mission is going to be and how it will play out…in the meantime, they have to move on with some tactical advertising. The brand still has to go on, shareholder value still has to be maintained, so I think there still has to be some tactical efforts to keep on going throughout these issues.
Tactic 2: Be More Vocal
Dana DiTomaso, Partner at Kick Point
The fact that it’s still unclear what Subway is going to do is a bad sign.
Someone in a leadership position is trying to either keep the relationship with Jared (big mistake) or lay low and hope it all blows over (also a big mistake).
They need to step up and make a statement, either way.
Rebecca Brooks, Founder of Alter Agents
Part of our philosophy…is that brands are judged not by whether they have a crisis (like Jared), but how they respond to that crisis.
A traditional model would be to ignore it and hope it blows over, but that won’t work with today’s consumer.
They’ll want Subway to get in front of it, take responsibility for their (unknowing) role, talk about how they are going to change things or [make] donations to relevant charities.
Silence, to today’s shopper, will look like tacit approval of Jared’s actions.
Annie Weber, Managing Director of Public Affairs and Corporate Communications at GfK
If I was in the room and working with them, I would ask whether it’s premature to be focused on just part of it. I know you want to take down signage and clean up, but when things happen, it’s not a brand that responds, it’s the people behind it and customers and stakeholders want to know there are human beings behind the company that are taking care of issues and fully responding and fairly and transparently being proactive.
I think the foundation is in a sense of shared values because then you can trust them to make the right decisions. When problems occur, they know it is isolated, so, one of the things here, we’ve worked with companies with issues and we know what stakeholders care about. It’s hearing enough from you that you’re fully, fairly, proactively dealing with these issues. There could be a lot of tensions and you want to jump to signage issues, which is easy…but we find customers and stakeholders want to hear from people.
The hard part is no matter what they do, they will be criticized. If they try to come up with meaningful responses, some folks will see it as a PR response.
The important part is to really recenter itself. They want to be committed from the long term [and any new program should flow] from their values and [they should decide] how they want to respond and stick with it.
It shouldn’t be superficial because they will get flak, but if they show they are responding as human beings and then decide how do they want to behave as group of individuals [they will be more successful].
Nancy Harhut, Chief Creative Officer at Wilde Agency
They’ve already done a lot right. They responded quickly, suspending [and] then severing the relationship with Jared. Additionally, they’ve announced their CMO is stepping down and they have initiated an agency review (not that they or their agency could reasonably be expected to have foreseen this).
Now what remains, in an ongoing effort to be transparent, is to remind the public once or twice more that Subway is just as shocked and dismayed at this news as they are, that they hope Jared gets the help he needs and that he clearly does not represent Subway’s values.
Next Subway needs a new message in the marketplace. The fast food that can help you lose weight was a nice differentiator, but now it may be too tied to Jared.
Simply claiming the food is healthy or touting fresh ingredients won’t be enough for them today. Nor will competing on price. Or the ability to customize your meal.
So Subway will need to find something new to call its own. Perhaps they can stake a claim to healthier food, made the way you want it – quickly. There may be some traction to be had there, if they can deliver on the promise.
Maybe there’s an army of people out there – nice, normal Americans – all of whom have lost weight eating at Subway. If so, maybe they tout that claim over the single spokesperson.
Or perhaps they crowdsource new sandwiches, new recipes and new names for them – all a signal that Subway is reinventing itself.
Overall, I think the public is willing to accept that this was just an unfortunate, yet unforeseeable, situation. However, Subway needs to get people thinking of someone other than Jared as quickly as possible when they think of the brand.
Callum Beattie, Partner at Honest Agency
First and foremost, Subway should not panic and make reactive decisions. A methodical approach with a calm head is required.
- Acknowledge the issue. Don’t pretend there isn’t one, behind closed doors or in the public eye.
- Assess the situation. What damage has been caused? What are the potential ramifications?
- Create a meaningful assessment or snapshot of where the brand stands in light of current events.
- Develop a number of potential “What if?” scenarios and anticipate the outcomes.
- Choose whichever scenario and outcome that most closely aligns with the current brand.
Ultimately, the American public is forgiving of almost any indiscretion so long as the guilty (or guilty by association) party acknowledges and takes ownership of the issue. There may be a rocky patch ahead, but Subway has an opportunity to rebound stronger than before.
Dave Wakeman, Principal at Wakeman Consulting Group
They face a huge challenge because so much of their marketing had been built around Jared Fogle for so long that he is synonymous with the brand.
The statement that Subway has ended their relationship with Jared doesn’t go far enough. The brand is already faltering due to changing tastes and desires in the marketplace and so this is another knock on them as a whole.
If they were my client, I would tell them that they should start a campaign that centers around the fact that they are as disappointed and hurt by Jared’s actions as their customers are. They could also highlight that the issue that Jared is involved in doesn’t just happen with rich, white men that are spokespeople for fast food brands, but an issue that is causing harm all around the world and that as much as this is a painful time for the company and many people in the community, it would be wrong not to take the opportunity to use this as a way to help people that are harmed by sex trafficking and sexual abuse around the country or the world.
Going forward, build on this situation; to rebuild their image by focusing on respect and care, both physically, through diet and exercise, but emotionally through efforts to support at-risk members of their communities.
The key for Subway is to not try to avoid talking about what happened with Jared. They have to recognize that the actions took place and that Jared was particularly wed to them and their brand. If they don’t say anything of substance, it is almost like they are being complicit in his actions.
To me it would be synonymous with Ronald McDonald getting caught doing something similar and McDonald’s trying to avoid any mention of it.
Linda Pophal, CEO of Strategic Communications
This situation is likely to serve as a great case study in reputation management for years to come!
If I were the head of Subway’s marketing department, I would do exactly what they seem to be doing. As an interested outside observer, I have been watching this situation unfold and…they seem to be following the recommended approach:
Get in front of the issue by acting quickly. You must make some sort of response quickly in today’s rapid communication cycle environment. Subway cut ties with Fogle immediately and issued a statement. In a situation like this, that’s about the best you can do.
Make sure employees are armed with your key messages and ready to serve as brand ambassadors (an important element of this is ensuring good employee relations and employee engagement always so that they are ready to step up to support the organization in these types of situations). Employees also, though, need to have some guidance – what is your organization sharing with the media [and] what responses might they make when friends, families and others ask them about the situation?
Move ahead and attempt to put the issue behind you. One of the challenges in dealing with these types of provocative crisis situations is staying out of the conversation, but that’s exactly what organizations need to attempt to do. So far, I think Subway is doing a good job of this.
Reinforce your brand messages. One important thing that organizations and individuals need to do at all times, well before a crisis situation occurs, is to create a strong brand that is valued and trusted by customers and consumers. That’s really the best reputation management tool and it works. Bad things happen to good companies and consumers understand this. As consumers consider the impact on a brand they think about:
- Their past experiences and impressions about the brand.
- The current situation.
- The response to the situation.
Subway has a strong brand – they’re #1 in the quick serve market according to the YouGov brand index. I would not anticipate that this issue would impact that standing to any great degree.
Stay the course. Companies can, and do, rally from bad situations all the time. It’s important, though, that they are taking steps always to develop and support a positive corporate image.
Ralph Legnini, Senior Creative Strategist at DragonSearch
If I were a contributing voice to the current Subway marketing team, I would recommend that (and this is obvious) they have to successfully separate themselves from their former spokesperson. The firing speaks to that – similar to when a newscaster gets the axe for inappropriate actions or statements – but that is only the first step.
What happened needs to get overpowered by a new direction-positive campaign. I would incorporate an abundance of imagery creating a new branding direction. Visual aspects will embed in the public’s mind in a different place than the type of verbal messaging that was the essence of the “lose weight by eating at Subway”-focus.
It is also time to modernize their advertising campaign. Focus on portraying people who do not fit the stereotypical image of someone into kiddie porn. Younger, active, women [and] couples – even hit the same sex marriage element to a small degree. Political and cultural correctness – portray that – and distance themselves from any element that would trigger a connotation back to the memory of Jared Fogle.
An aggressive, positive new directional TV and radio ad campaign which is strongly supported by creative social media (including contests, giveaways, coupons, etc.) will separate the future from this current negativity and association and successfully rebrand that negative reputation management issue over the next six months.
Bianca Lee, Founder of White Rose Marketing Solutions
In brand management, disruption is super important. This story has earned Subway more impressions than their marketing budget paid for in probably the last quarter at least. Yes, it is less than positive publicity for Jared, but the Subway-Helped-Me-Lose-200-Pounds story is no less relevant now that he is pleading guilty to these charges.
When people who never heard of this man Google him, they learn he lost weight eating Subway. As long as he isn’t fat again, Subway as a brand is winning.
What would earn them even more publicity? Not severing their ties with Jared.
If I was the head of marketing, I would get a stellar PR agency on this immediately. Even before it came out into the press. I would have briefed them to continue the “Subway as Jared’s Savior”-story. After all, Subway saved Jared from his morbid obesity. Why can’t Subway save him from whatever is causing this awful behavior?
I would use this as an opportunity to raise awareness about pedophilia or whatever his technical issue is, perhaps partnering with law enforcement to put an app together that can help parents identify sex offenders in their towns (or something of the sort that is appropriate given the charges) or run advertisements about how this type of behavior is not excusable but start the conversation about how to keep it from happening. They could take the [remainder] of his contract and pay it out to organizations that help victims of pedophilia. There is so much good that could come of Subway attaching themselves in the right way to this issue.
Consider the Tiger Woods/Nike relationship right after he was found to have been cheating on his wife. I’m not sure Tiger was convicted of anything illegal (he sure as hell wasn’t involved with minors, so it was definitely different), but Nike was one of the only – if not the only – sponsors that stuck with him. They didn’t gloss over the issue, but they took control of the story in a way that was palatable to their target consumers.
Subway needs to find a way to do the same thing. The company needs parents to believe in Subway because they know that Subway not only cares about their waistlines and their kids’ waistlines, but also their safety.
Burying their heads in the sand and simply cutting ties with Jared is the old way of doing things. It is an easy out and, most of all, it is a waste of a load of free potentially positive publicity for their brand. They would dominate the share of voice for their industry for a while just off of this story!
Vassilis Dalakas, Professor of Marketing at Cal State San Marcos
Brands usually use endorsers for two main reasons: To capitalize on the endorser’s likability and/or to capitalize on his or her expertise. The former is based on the premise of liking transfer, where when consumers like a spokesperson, those positive feelings will transfer to brands the spokesperson endorses. The latter relies on the endorser’s expertise adding credibility to the brand’s message.
Jared was a great endorser for Subway as he fit this profile quite nicely. He seemed like a nice regular guy that was relatable, which made him likeable.
Also, Jared had the personal story of losing all that weight by eating at Subway, which added credibility to the brand’s message about being a healthier alternative to other fast food options. As a result, it’s no surprise that Subway kept him as their endorser for such a long time and that they attribute much of the brand’s growth to him.
I remember thinking in the past that the worst thing for Subway in relation to Jared would be if he ever gains the weight back. Apparently I was wrong.
The severity of a scandal can be detrimental to a brand even if the scandal is unrelated to the endorser’s expertise. For example, NFL players like Mike Vick and Ray Rice lost their endorsements because their scandals were severe enough even though they were unrelated to their expertise as professional athletes, like a doping scandal would have been.
Using an endorser for 15 years inevitably ties your brand to that person in a way that is hard to separate, even if the official partnership ends. So, although Subway was quick to drop him as an endorser, consumers won’t forget Subway’s association with Jared so quickly.
More importantly, just like liking transfer helps a brand when it is associated with a liked endorser, we can also have disliking transfer. In this case, a hated spokesperson will result in negative feelings toward the brand that used him.
Subway actually started a new campaign in 2015 where they were using Jared as a family man promoting healthy eating habits, like eating at Subway, to his children. The revelations of this scandal happened before that campaign was full-fledged, which certainly saved them from having to deal with a much worse situation.
Given that the brand’s likability took a big hit, I believe Subway needs to actively work on restoring likability. Simply announcing they denounce his behavior and cutting ties with him probably won’t be enough. As painful as it may be for them to continue rehashing this, it is something they have to deal with.
A 15-year association with a spokesperson can’t be forgotten by consumers overnight. Actively supporting causes that relate to fighting child sex abuse can be a start in their efforts to restore their image and make the brand more likable again.
Here’s what they are apparently doing. They are hoping consumers will just forget. It may work eventually but I think they are missing an opportunity to make a statement that can restore the brand’s image in a more powerful way.
Dan Whitmyer, Associate Director of Strategy at Northlich
Obviously it’s not a good time to be Subway. Jared Fogle has been synonymous with Subway for the past 15 years.
The good news for Subway – and I shudder to use the term “good news” in relation to this story – is that the brand made the right first step, immediately suspending their relationship with Fogle last month when this news began hitting media outlets, and following that up by immediately severing their relationship with Fogle when it became clear that he would be charged with these crimes.
Moving forward, if I were crafting the marketing strategy for Subway, I would recommend that they proceed cautiously.
I would not recommend that Subway eschew their usual heavy broadcast media plan as the football season is approaches. If sales are already down, shutting down broadcast media will only amplify that.
What I would do is vastly increase my budget for pre-testing of the messages that I’m considering running. Subway cannot afford to appear tone deaf in any of their marketing right now. Spending the time and money to test consumer perceptions and sentiment related to their marketing messages should be a key focus to help dodge any potential crises before they occur.
If crises do occur, Subway should already have a crisis plan in place, designed to help them respond quickly and effectively to consumers who will certainly have a more watchful eye on the company over the next several weeks.
Additionally, Subway should consider if now is the right time to make over their social responsibility commitments. If you visit the social responsibility section of Subway’s website, you can see that Subway has several commitments that feel very on-brand for them, related to nutrition, the environment and sustainability.
Given the 15 years that they’ve spent working with Fogle, it could make a lot of sense for Subway to pick a renowned charity that is set up to help victims of child abuse – particularly sexual abuse – and begin partnering with them, too.
My inclination – if Subway were to build a new partnership with a charity like this – would be to spend virtually no paid or earned media touting it. Update the social responsibility page on your website and call it a day. Above all else, you cannot appear to be leveraging the awful crimes that Fogle is being charged with for positive PR.
Follow these key steps while continuing to act swiftly and decisively and Subway can begin to put the 15 years that they tied their brand to a man who is about to be required to register as a sex offender behind them.
Chad Reid, Director of Communications at JotForm
First things first: The company did a good job with their response to the Jared crisis in the first place. They were prompt, succinct and direct in their public statements about distancing themselves with Jared, even before he was formally charged.
But Subway’s brand is still damaged badly from this whole ordeal. After all, they did invest many years with Jared as their primary spokesperson.
On top of that, Subway has actually been slipping lately — even before this whole Jared crisis.
Subway needs a way to — pun not intended — start fresh. The company really peaked a few years ago when they were the fastest growing fast food company in the country, but their brand got stale over time. Maybe it’s oversaturation? They are one of the few franchises that are incentivized to put multiple restaurants within proximity of one another. This is because the restaurant essentially hires regional GMs in charge of growth. Franchisees often get squeezed out of their own stores or have to buy multiple stores to stay afloat — part of this made possible by Subway’s less-than-industry-average franchise fee. All of this led to too many stores, and a brand in trouble.
The Jared situation could be a blessing if Subway is up for the challenge. It could serve as a catalyst to drop the (always-questionable) health angle, which is intrinsically tied to Jared, and reinvent themselves as a more premium fast food restaurant chain. Chipotle has shown that quality ingredients has its own market, and it’s not necessarily that price sensitive. Subway should redo everything, from the look of their restaurants and their sandwich ingredients to their own motto. They should even consolidate restaurants, while they’re at it.
Andy Ferguson, Freelance Writer and Creative Director
I think the one thing Subway shouldn’t do is be silent and wait for the news to move on. Of course the news WILL move on but if Subway doesn’t do or say anything, the story is always going to be about the awful crimes committed by a Subway spokesman. I think they are better served being proactive here and making this a story about the way Subway took a horrible situation and turned it into something positive. I don’t think people blame Subway for what happened but the reality is that Jared is so intrinsically linked to the brand, there is no way for the brand to extract itself from this situation.
I think it’s important for Subway to hold onto what made it/Jared so popular in the first place. Jared represented a typical, everyday person who struggled with his weight and then used Subway to make an exceptional change. That story was inspirational to so many people and, to me, that’s where Subway needs to keep its focus: Helping everyday people use the Subway brand to make exceptional changes. That message is still a powerful one to receive.
Huma Gruaz, President and CEO of Alpaytac Public Relations/Marketing Communications
Subway has been posting short statements on its social media channels without expressing any empathy for the victims nor taking any responsibility for overlooking the criminal activity the brand’s spokesperson was engaged in. Subway needs to immediately implement a crisis communication campaign that helps protect its brand. This can only happen with empathy and transparency. Not with short, robotic messages that do not connect with the audience. The top 5 rules of crisis communication need to be used here:
- Take responsibility. Subway overlooked the criminal activity of its spokesperson by not being diligent enough about monitoring his day-to-day activity. When a major brand is associated with a person, the brand needs to set the highest ethical standards and conduct that this individual needs to adhere to and there should be check mechanisms implemented.
- Apologize, express regret and communicate empathy for the victims.
- State what the solution is moving forward to ensure a similar incident will not be repeated.
- Use this as an opportunity to strengthen the emotional bond with the consumer.
- Follow through on the promise.
Subway’s CEO needs to issue a heartfelt message to the public about their deep regret for having been associated with such a criminal, their sorrow and empathy for the victims and their families who have been affected by the crimes of this individual, the importance the brand places on the value of community and being a good human being — what the brand is about — and Subway’s commitment to positive values that the brand represents. Asking for their customers’ support and understanding will go a long way and help galvanize the public behind the brand.Subway has an opportunity to turn this situation around and strengthen its bond with its customers, through a strategic, well thought-out and heartfelt campaign that underscores the brand values and the company’s commitment to its customers.
Paige Arnof-Fenn, CEO of Mavens & Moguls
I would look and see if the ads with Olympians like Apolo Ohno, Michael Phelps, etc. and the one with Mike Trout tested well and, if so, I would run more of those (if they are still under contract) and start building up brand equity again to the World Series and the next Olympic Games or develop a new campaign altogether with fresh creative that focuses on their healthier angle.
They should not be invisible, they need to remind fans of the brand’s benefits and healthy positioning. It is an opportunity to come back stronger than before.
Think of Classic Coke and Martha Stewart. Fans of these brands moved on from the mistakes and scandals. They need something positive for people to focus on and if the sports stars are still relevant and popular then go back to them ASAP and move forward.
People love good comeback stories and want to see underdogs succeed, so touch their emotional heartstrings with athletes who stir up positive images and move on.
They will survive and maybe even thrive!
Bryan Mattimore, Chief Idea Guy at Growth Engine
So, here’s what we would recommend Subway do…immediately:
Conduct research with current customers. This research should be done both at their shops and off-location.
A) At their shops: Specifically, ask each of their franchise owners to conduct short, three-question interviews with a wide variety of customers (different ages, gender and ethnicities) while making them a sandwich (to increase the informality — and therefore, hopefully the validity of the responses). The three questions should be:
- What do you think of the Jared story?
- Do you think Subway is to blame in any way?
- What do you think Subway should do?
Have the franchise owners record these answers on a survey sheet after the customer leaves…and send these results immediately to headquarters.
B) Off-location: Hire an independent research firm to do interviews (probably mall intercepts) asking the same three questions. The interviewers should pre-qualify the respondents with the screening question: Have you eaten a Subway sandwich in the past six months?
Compare and contrast the results of these two survey initiatives, recognizing the strategies for how to proceed/handle this PR disaster could be different for different age, gender and ethnic customers.
Then publicize the results of these surveys. Have a spokesperson from Subway (a woman?) say how terrible the situation is…that Subway was as shocked as everyone else…and that this is what Subway is going to do based on the results of having just spoken to 10,000 of their customers (or whatever the number is).
By conducting and publicizing the survey, it will: 1) send the message that Subway, above all, values the opinions and feedback of its customers; 2) reframe the story/create a distance from Jared because now the story is about the data/results of the survey and what Subway should do moving forward…versus how long the prison sentence will be for the illegal and unconscionable behavior of their former spokesperson.
Michael Maven of Carter & Kingsley
At a time like this, it’s important to remember that Jared is not Subway. The two may have become synonymous with each other, but at the end of the day Subway is any sandwich restaurant.
Subway has done everything they can to distance themselves from Jared. The best thing now to do is move forward.
If I was the head of Subway’s marketing department, I would stick to promoting our core message and what we do best. I would focus in on how we provide low-calorie sandwiches with fresh, tasty ingredients, which can be eaten as part of a healthy weight loss regime.
I would also use this as a time to improve our marketing message. How about creating a full weight loss program with Subway sandwiches providing the nutrition needed to stay healthy and lose weight during this time? This could be given away for free, with the ROI coming in the form of people buying more Subway sandwiches.
I would also start doing a national campaign for people to write in and show the most amount of weight loss that they have had following the Subway weight loss program.
Finally, I would also run a national competition for people to get involved and create a new healthy sandwich. I would include some really great runner-up prizes with the winner of the competition having their creation as part of the Subway weight loss menu.
Peter Kim, Marketing Strategist at Ready Artwork
In order for Subway to get past their PR crisis with Jared, it would be best to send out a sincere apology. They’ve only sent out two tweets addressing the issue and then resumed business as usual on Twitter the following day. Their plan of action should be:
- [Issuing] a sincere apology, especially addressing the victims.
- Supporting anti-sexual assault organizations if that is what represents their brand values as they claim.
- Using their athletes as spokespeople to further their message (Blake Griffin, Michael Phelps etc.).
- [Focusing] campaigns on the younger generation.
Jared had a major impact in the ‘90s, but high school and college students in 2015 either don’t remember him or didn’t fully understand his influence on the brand. This is an opportunity for them to target their campaigns towards the younger crowd rather than adults looking to slim down and lose weight eating a few subs per day.
Tactic 3: Provide Virtual Restitution
Brandon Peach, Branding Strategist at EZSolution
The first thing to realize is that bad publicity for any major organization is inevitable – and most have an action plan in response. However, the nature of Subway’s negative publicity is so disturbing that it necessitates a carefully tailored approach.
It’s often said that no publicity is bad publicity, and this may actually be true in Subway’s case. There’s a real opportunity here for the organization – which, by the way, is the world’s largest fast food chain, even beating out McDonald’s. The three-part approach they should take is:
- Distance: Separate themselves from the offender (which, to their credit, they already have) and express how the company’s core values are in direct opposition to the offender’s actions.
- Sympathy: Make a concerted and brand-focused effort to express sympathy to anyone who was harmed while Jared was in the employ of the organization.
- Redress: Take a huge step in launching a carefully considered campaign to address and combat child sex trafficking, a terrible issue that’s beginning to enter the public consciousness. They should also look to donate a considerable amount of money to charities and organizations to promote awareness to fight child sex trafficking.
In taking these measures, Subway would not only effectively divorce themselves from Fogle, they would use his crimes as a springboard for social justice in a way that would most probably result in brand affinity, leading to great press, public goodwill and (hopefully) higher profits.
Liam Brown, CEO of Sidestep Coaching
First, Subway needs to put out a TV ad about the importance of protecting children and show an alliance with a credible nonprofit organization that is about child protection from sexual or any type of abuse. Perhaps a one-day portion of franchisee sales and royalty fees going to support a cause.
Although on the face of it, putting out an ad may seem like an obvious ploy…on the other side, it shows they are taking action on this matter and that’s what consumers remember most…that some action was taken.
Chris Bryant, Creative Director and Principal at Empire Studios
If I was head of Subway’s marketing department, I would start by never mentioning Jared’s name ever again. They did a good thing by removing all his signage and likeness from everything immediately, which is good.
Next, the only acknowledgement should be in the form of a donation to a charity such as The Children’s Defense Fund. A $25,000 to $50,000 donation would go a long way to show Subway’s stance on what happened and how they are trying to make a positive out of this negative.
A brief mention of the donation on social media (i.e., once on their Twitter and Facebook pages) with a link to that charity’s website would be perfect. That will certainly get picked up by outlets like BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post and from there to other major sources like CNN and MSNBC. That publicity will do much to repair their image.
After that: Move on, and do it quickly.
The next marketing campaigns run should focus on the freshness of the products, or a really out-of-the-box idea that is a polar opposite of what Jared represented. No more, “I got thinner/healthier/happier after eating Subway,” for at least the next decade while this mess is forgotten.
Subway needs a memorable and shareable campaign. It can be funny, inspirational, and/or offbeat, but it needs to draw attention to them in a positive way.
Andrea Carter, public relations consultant at AC Media LLC
If I were head of their PR, I’d shift the focus from trying to publicly unfriend Jared to showing more sympathy for the victims and maybe even donating resources to help the fight against child pornography.
Jared was the face of their brand for so long, they’ll never be able to just erase that history. So why not channel their energy into fighting against child porn?
Tactic 4: Lay Low
Jess Harris, Digital Marketing and Communications Consultant at Jess Harris Consulting
Though it may not look like, there is actually tremendous opportunity here for Subway. Subway was already dealing with anemic sales and growing criticism of being “faux healthy” before the Jared scandal broke.
When the news of the raid on Jared did break, Subway did everything right by immediately distancing themselves from him. They quickly tweeted that they had suspended their relationship with him and, in another tweet, called his actions “inexcusable.”
While it was a short response, and some say it could’ve gotten more in-depth, the one thing people are still taking away from it is that Subway not only distanced themselves from Jared with satisfying speed, they then took an actual public stance on the situation with the “inexcusable” comment. That is not something a lot of brands feel comfortable doing – they’ll often just stick with the “We cut ties, no further comment”-option.
While many are predicting that Subway’s name is now forever tied with pedophilia, the truth is that much of the consumer sentiment being reported appears to be sympathy towards the brand. And quite honestly, it’s going to be forgotten about once people turn their attention to the next scandal.
When is the last time you saw a headline pop up about Walter Palmer (the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion)? At the time of the scandal, it’s all you saw and heard about. Now we’re focused on Jared Fogle and the Ashley Madison hacks.
Subway’s best course of action now is to continue to lay low until the eye of this storm has passed and, in the meantime, begin working on rebranding the company, which we know is already on their radar since they put their creative account up for review. The good news is the public will probably associate new branding efforts with them continuing to try and distance themselves from the scandal and not the fact that they were already starting to go stale.
Subway actually has the opportunity to come out looking like champions in this situation. If I were them, I’d find a core value that will resonate most with the public after this scandal, and begin building their rebranding strategy around that.
Rachel Moehl, Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at Telebrands Corp.
Subway has a long, uphill PR battle ahead of it. As someone who operates a roster of social media channels with a large team in tow, I think the best advice I could give would be to respond only when asked a direct question about the scandal and to make sure that everybody is singing the same tune.
Social media offers the fastest possible way for Subway the brand to go south. A defensive stance, such as they have already adopted, will antagonize consumer brand champions.
Case in point: people are responding to multiple posts about Jared [on Facebook] with requests for the return of $5 footlong subs.
They would do well to focus on those things that they do see as representative of the Subway brand: Affordability, freshness, accessibility, and variety.
Kyle Reyes, Creative Director and President of The Silent Partner Marketing
First of all, acknowledge the allegations. Distance yourself without getting involved in the investigation, but acknowledge disappointment and deep concern while supporting the authorities.
Next, the natural thing to do would be to find an organization to support surrounding kids. This would be a royally bad idea. It will come across as not being genuine and authentic.
In an age where social media and a fast news cycle make people and stories famous for 15 seconds…go dark. Allow the storm to pass.
The next step will be to slowly rebuild the brand after the storm passes by focusing on – not a kid-based organization to support – but a focus on health and wellness and how your brand fits into lifestyle changes.
Allow the storm to pass. Don’t get caught in it.
Kage Spatz, CEO of Spacetwin
The most important move Subway can make now is to never comment on Jared again. This is one of those tough spots for a brand where they have to let the news run its course.
Regardless of any new reports that come out about their former spokesperson, the best comment Subway can make is no comment at all. The last thing they want to do is fuel the fire to any new stories that arise.
Lynford Morton, a self-described 20-year public relations and crisis communications veteran
Subway has already done everything they need to do at this point.
Subway suspended the relationship as soon as the allegations were made and terminated their professional relationship when Jared pleaded guilty.
I have not read that Jared did anything inappropriate while he was acting in an official capacity, so the issue is really about Jared’s decisions.
My other consideration would be the reactions of Subway customers. I have not seen a suggestion that customers are blaming Subway for Jared’s actions or that sales are suffering as a result. I would continue to monitor the issue closely on our social media channels for leading indications that public sentiments were changing.
As is typical in crisis communications situations, I would have statements and talking points prepared just in case we should need them.
Chris Dupin, Marketing Consultant
Subway’s silence is the right thing. Jared had essentially already faded out of Subway’s campaigns long before his alleged crimes came to light.
In my view, Subway doesn’t have any damage control to do. Why? Subway did not do anything wrong. Jared allegedly did.
Beyond severing ties with Jared, I don’t think Subway has much work to do. It’s hard to have the marketing team sit on their hands, but that’s the right move. Nike has done much the same with Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong.
That said, I think Subway has had an unfocused strategy for years. Their employees are “Sandwich Artists,” but are hardly comparable to a “Barista.” The slogan is “Eat Fresh,” but I think most customers go for convenience and price versus the alleged freshness of their lunchmeat. The customer image of the brand and Subway’s self-image are very different.
So what should Subway do?
By number of locations, Subway is the biggest fast food brand in the world and their focus seems to be shoehorning outlets in where no other outlet could fit. Their $5 Footlong campaign was successful in a time where household budgets were crunched. Their product is both cost-effective and easily accessible.
If I were Subway, a campaign called, “A sub when you need it,” plays to all their strengths. Maybe a “Go walk to dinner”-campaign could work recognizing that many are within walking distance of a Subway.
What’s your take? What would you do if you were in charge of Subway’s marketing department?