Subway isn’t likely to win any awards for advertising creativity anytime soon. The chain's TV ads can be some of the most basic, ho-hum out there. A college film major with a C+ average could probably put many of them together.
Ok, a B+.
Just look at the Clio Awards for TV excellence since 1960. Among today’s leading quick service restaurants (QSRs), McDonald’s has been honored 60 times. Burger King has been cited 18 and Wendy’s has 8 awards.
How about Sunday’s Super Bowl, where Subway ran a pair of spots? Neither of them made the top 40 in the USA Today AdMeter. One was ranked 49th near the bottom and just above that horrible Calvin Klein spot.
Recently for the third year in a row, Subway led YouGov’s brand buzz rankings. While its ads were mentioned in the write-up, the fact it topped the likes of Amazon, Target and Apple suggests creativity may not have been as much of a factor as, say, Subway’s huge ad budget that allows it to blanket the airwaves.
Yet, if the ad industry decided to launch an awards show for sheer effectiveness and ability to ring the cash register – and why hasn’t it? – Subway would have to be in consideration annually for some hardware.
Sure, Subway will deviate with spots introducing a would-be masterly meatball creation and it uses lots of sports stars as endorsers, but it seems to always return to two messages: health and affordability. Despite what a hotshot Clio winner might argue, it doesn’t seem to feel any need to go in markedly different directions.
So, it sticks with its two meal tickets on separate creative tracks: Jared and $5 footlongs. Jared Fogle, the guy who lost well over 200 pounds thanks to help from Subway sandwiches, still conveys that the restaurant chain can help one lose weight (true or not). And, $5 footlongs represent a pretty good-sized deal -- whether the sandwiches are 12 inches or not. (Subway has recently dealt with controversy about its subs being less than the promised length and had to offer a commitment to guarantee it.)
Jared and $5 footlongs are two brands – people are brands, too – that would seem to do well on those ad recall studies. Getting trim and eating cheap are pretty resonant concepts. And, who can forget the image of a trimmer Jared holding up the huge-sized pants he wore before turning to a Subway diet? Or, even more so, the catchy $5 footlong tune? (The “Eat Fresh” tagline is memorable as well.)
Subway’s less-than-dynamic creative was on full display during the big game Sunday. The most notable aspect may have been the use of Brian Baumgartner, a star of NBC’s “The Office,” who offered some comedy that wasn’t that notable.
Subway uses a roster of big-time athletes – seemingly one from every sport -- in its spots and had plenty in the Super Bowl. Yet, while the media focused heavily on celebrities in spots in the game, no one seemed to be interested in Blake Griffin, Laila Ali, RGIII and others in the Subway ads. Pretty telling about the level of respect Subway's creative gets.
(Subway chief marketer Tony Pace once said he likes to hire athletes who actually eat at the chain and asks them their favorite sandwich before he inks a deal.)
Otherwise, even with an opportunity to reach so many people with buzz-generating new concepts or stunts in the Super Bowl, Subway went big with … Jared.
He was the centerpiece of the first spot, while the company couldn’t bear to go without him so much that he had a rather gratuitous role in the second. In the first, Subway has Baumgartner and athletes telling a “feel-good story” about how Jared had to lose weight and was “fighting for his life.” He's then congratulated on the 15th anniversary of keeping the weight off “despite the odds.”
The second comedic ad featured a range of celebs – and Jared – trying and failing to pronounce “FebruANY,” which is a promotion for $5 footlongs (and some $6 ones) will be available all month.
It was slightly bizarre since $5 footlongs will be around for a long time. So will Jared. Maybe not headlining awards shows, but helping with the bottom line.