Subway this week kicked off a multichannel marketing campaign during the Olympic Winter Games telecasts on NBC that it hopes will help change the conversation after a few years of brand woes. Its run of bad juju includes the scandal and imprisonment of spokesman Jared Fogle, a massive group of store closings, botched promotions, restive franchisees and the general malaise of America’s fast-food business.
The new integrated marketing campaign extends Subway’s “Make It What You Want” platform with a 60-second and 30-second broadcast ad that features live-action and user-generated content “to show people living their best lives,” as Subway puts it.
A follow-up spot focuses on price: “Make it Big. Make it Spicy. Make it Fun. Make it $4.99. 5 Footlongs, $4.99 each.”
“This campaign marks a new direction for us,” stated Chris Carroll, Subway’s chief advertising officer. “We’re defining who we are in a more contemporary way, and uniting our brand with today’s consumer’s lifestyles, but fundamentals don’t change. Customization, every-day affordability and delicious, nutritious sandwiches are still at the core of our business.”
Subway has sorely needed to redefine its brand. Several years ago, it had more stores open across the United States than any other restaurant chain in a business built on its customized sandwich menu, reasonable prices and a long-running marketing platform based on the diet experiences of Fogle, a one-time Subway customer who claimed weight loss based on a steady diet of Subway sandwiches.
Fogle became an object of shame in 2015 after he was convicted of sex crimes with minors and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Around the same time, the half-century-old Subway was facing unprecedented challenges to its better-for-you positioning from other quick-serve chains such as Chipotle.
Sales began trending down in 2016, and Subway closed several hundred restaurants in 2016 and 2017, leaving it with nearly 26,000 U.S. restaurants and a total of more than 44,000 outlets in 113 countries. The New York Post reported that Subway’s traffic fell 25% over the last five years.
When Subway wanted to reintroduce its absent footlong promotion as a traffic-builder last year, many franchisees revolted because they said the $4.99 promotional price ate into their profits. Subway’s North America marketing leader, Karlin Linhardt, resigned in the wake of the protest by franchisees.
In addition to its own headwinds, Subway is battling the fact that its U.S. store footprint shrunk by 2% last year, though chain outlets saw a small uptick. Blame it on the eating habits of millennials, who tend to be buying more groceries online and going to restaurants less often, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch report last year.