Posted by Abe Sauer on December 2, 2009 09:22 AM
The problem with hitching your brand-wagon to a single star is that sometimes that star falls off his or her own wagon (see: Smith, Anna Nicole and TrimSpa). Such is the case with the chain's Jared "The Subway Diet" Fogle.
On December 1, candid photos of the Subway spokesman were picked up from an obscure message board and begin trickling up. By the end of the day, leading US gossip site Perez Hilton was featuring Subway's diet guru and icon looking... very heavy. Chunky, some might say. The schadenfreude of the websites that published the pictures was thick. If Subway brand managers are not in damage control mode at this very minute, they are in deep trouble.
Jared, who claimed to have lost 245 pounds eating Subway sandwiches, has been a Subway spokesman for years now: last year, the brand celebrated its 10th anniversary with him. Subway continues to rely heavily on him as it pitches its offerings as healthier than the competition. This year Jared has appeared with NFL stars such as Reggie Bush and Brady Quinn.
This isn't the first embarrassment Subway has had to deal with regarding its spokespeople. Not long ago the brand woke to news that its new superstar representative, Michael Phelps, had been photographed smoking marijuana from a bong. It weathered that storm. But Jared is different.
Today's Subway brand is completely tied to "Jared." Or, more superficially, it is tied to Jared's success. It would be easier for Subway's brand to endure Jared disappearing, retiring or getting hit by a bus. A fat Jared though? If the band is smart, it will secret him away until he is presentable and back to his old form. Or it will cut its ties, though this would still probably result in a legacy of Subway jokes if Jared stayed in the public eye. Some damage is done but it could be, and still might get, much worse. In fact, all the hard work Subway has done to brand itself "healthly" risks becoming a punch-line.
Subway's current dilemma is reminiscent of weight-loss brand Jenny Craig's embarrassment with Kirstie Alley, a seeming success story that turned into a train wreck. Jenny Craig recovered with Valerie Bertinelli, a new spokeswoman. But some damage was done to the brand and, in any case, Jenny Craig's brand was nowhere near as tied to Alley as Subway's is to Jared.