It’s hard to believe it’s been 17 years since Jared Fogle came to our attention. Long before there was reality TV, Fogle shed an amazing 245 pounds—partly by eating Subway sandwiches—and became the poster boy for the sandwich chain and a celebrity in his own right.
It’s to Fogle’s credit that he has kept off the weight and has kept representing Subway as one of North America’s best-known brand ambassadors. And it’s to Subway’s credit that the brand has maintained ties with Fogle, including introducing his story to a new generation of younger consumers.
The brand’s latest ad campaign, “Jared’s Journey,” broke over the weekend during March Madness coverage to drive awareness among youths of his double feats of losing weight and keeping it off—all while still eating at Subway a few times a week.
The semi-animated spot refreshes Fogle’s story by depicting his real-life role as a father concerned about healthful eating for his two children. It uses what Subway called “an engaging and emotive storytelling perspective” and relies on the hashtag #MyJourney to lend an important social media element that certainly was missing when Subway launched Fogle on the world.
“We barely had the internet around, much less social media,” Fogle quipped to brandchannel of those hashtag-free days.
We caught up with the Indiana native on Monday, in between his appearance at the White House Easter Egg roll this morning and his plans to represent Subway in his hometown of Indianapolis at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game this evening (where, true to his Big Ten roots, he will be cheering on Wisconsin).
brandchannel: So what were you doing at the White House Easter Egg roll?
Jared Fogle: I’m fortunate to have been able to go several times. The previous couple of times I took my kids and my wife, but this time around it was just me. We just walk around and take pictures with a bunch of folks, and I got a chance to say hi to the president quickly. I also hung out with [Robert Griffin III, a Subway spokesman and quarterback of the Washington Redskins]. I was doing stuff with the kids who were there, and being a brand ambassador for Subway and getting the chance to talk with everyone.
bc: How would you describe your persona as the Subway brand ambassador now versus when you started, and how does this new campaign refresh and extend your relationship with the brand?
Fogle: A lot of people saw the new commercial over the weekend and can’t believe it’s been 17 years. I can always tell when my commercials have been running on TV because recognition levels in public go up and people want to chat. Recognition levels are the same as they used to be but peak for me when I’m on TV.
And when I do a lot of local market visits for Subway around the country, and school visits, it’s definitely still there and people are excited about it. And this is going to take off quite a bit more with the new TV ad.
But it’s an evolution. They let me be myself. When I started this 17 years ago I was a kid just out of college, single, and I had lost all this weight, and was really trying to experience life for the first time. Now I’m married, with two kids of my own, and I think it’s a neat [ad] that focuses on that.
What separates my commercials and my story from others is that I’m not just a spokesperson, not something they created—I’m a real person. It’s my life. It’s a unique situation that no [other brand] has. I appreciate that Subway does that and keeps it real.
So when I’m doing interviews I’m doing it on behalf of myself. And in commercials we have led with that as well. The new commercial is about my latest place in life—to make sure as a dad I’m doing the right thing.
bc: Social media has changed everything and anyone can become an instant celebrity via YouTube, a Change.org petition or otherwise savvy personal brand management. Do you find this empowering for consumers?
Fogle: It’s really good that social media gives people, or a brand, a voice to say what they want to say. For example, I have a foundation for childhood obesity, the Jared Foundation, a not-for-profit group, and I use social media a lot to get the message out for what we’re doing for the foundation and what schools we’re going to and what programs we have for the kids.
We’re doing a lot more (cross-promotion) with Subway now, too. I changed my Twitter page this week to have my character from the commercial appear, which is pretty cool, and to engage fans. I do both business and personal stuff on social media.
bc: How do you “advise” the brand or otherwise urge Subway to align its goals with your values or point of view?
Fogle: I don’t, really. I’ve been fortunate that Subway has been very proactive with me in getting to know me as a person. I’m a normal guy like everyone else. I’m not a doctor; I’m not a nutritionist. They have great people on their staff for all of that.
I’m someone who has a personal story of being morbidly obese who fought back from it, and I’ve been able to keep the weight off for 17 years. That’s really my capacity.
I still eat Subway at least two or three times a week; that’s still one of the keys for me. But it’s never easy. Anyone who has fought that battle knows it’s brutal. It’s nice to know wherever I go there is always a Subway.
A lot of people are looking to shed a few pounds and get healthier and say, “If that Jared guy can do it, I can do it too.” So I commend Subway for keeping it real; they expect me to be me.
There have been a few hiccups along the way. Over 17 years, I have put on a few pounds a few times and then tried to get it back off. It’s not an exact science; I’m a human being like everyone else. But when I have, Subway has been supportive of me. They’ve worked with me and empowered me to make the right choices. I can’t imagine any other brand would be like that.
bc: Do you feel stereotyped to forever be “Jared the Subway guy”? Are you conflicted, like Leonard Nimoy was about the Spock role, for example?
Fogle: I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to be able to do my job. There are a lot worse problems to have than that. I love what I do. Fortunately I’ve been doing it for 17 years and I hope to do it as long as Subway wants me and the ads are effective and people relate to me. If it ever stops being fun, maybe I’ll move on to something different. But right now I’m having a blast: I travel, I share my story, I inspire people, and I help kids.