The biggest lesson gleaned from Subway’s foot-long fiasco last week is obvious: It doesn’t take much to kick off a social-media stampede followed by a mainstream media steamrolling. The question is whether Subway’s response, sincere and honest as it may have seemed, comes across as half baked.
To recap what happened in the event that you were too engrossed with the Liestrong fiasco on Oprah’s OWN (“Lance Armstrong Blew His Last Chance, Experts Say,” is how Ad Age’s Michael McCarthy sums it up; “Forked tongue, meet silver tongue” is the hed on Norman Chad’s review in the Washington Post) to pay attention to anything else, an Australian teenager last Tuesday tagged a photo of a Footlong on Subway’s Facebook page that, according to the tape measure sitting on top of it, measured only 11 inches.
“Subway, plse respond,” Matt Corby wrote, as News.com.au reports. Subway did respond, but thanks to a link on Reddit and simplicity of the original post by Matt Corby (who reportedly works at rival Red Rooster), the post had already taken a life of its own.
"Hi, Matt. Thanks for writing. Looking at this photo, this bread is not baked to our standards,” Subway wrote. “We have policies in place to ensure that our fresh baked bread is consistent and has the same great taste no matter which Subway restaurant around the world you visit. We value your feedback and want to thank you again for being a fan."
Today.com contributor Ben Popken writes that “commenters identifying themselves as Subway workers speculated that since the bread arrives at the stores frozen, it hadn't been properly tugged and ‘proofed’ before it was baked. If that's true, then Corby and others are still getting the same amount of bread as they're supposed to, it's just been a bit squished.”
Yes but, you might say, that’s less surface area for turkey, Paneer Tika, corn and peas, shrimp and broccoli, Peri Peri chicken -- or whatever is the popular filler in your neck of the world. And the story did indeed make news worldwide.
“That [Facebook] page has reportedly been taken down, but not before 131,000 people ‘liked’ it,” writes Lia Graingeron Yahoo! Canada’s “Shine On” blog. “Apparently ‘missing inch’ photos rage has been brewing among Subway lovers for some time, because the internet was instantly awash with of footlongs falling short of the 12-inch mark.”
“This is an enormous breech of trust, Subway,” charged one popular TV mock anchorman. But that was really just setting up Steven Colbert’s punchline query: “Are your employees even certified Subway artists? Have they passed the free-art tests where they have to make turtles out of lunch meats?” In fact, The New York Postgets the greater skewering, it seems, for running the news as its page-one story: “Honey, they shrunk the Footlong.”
For their part, reporters Kaylee Osowski and Natalie O’Neill write that Subway “honchos” “deserve a knuckle sandwich” after they discovered that “four out of seven Footlongs -- purchased at Subway locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens -- measured only 11 or 11.5 inches.
Don’t bother doing the math; the Post already has: “If you buy a $7 ‘footlong’ every other day for a year, an axed extra inch adds up to a loss of roughly $100.”
Laugh as we will, Subway corporate response does seem to come up short. As Matthew Yglesias points out on Slate, “… the essence of managing a large chain restaurant -- and Subway is the world's largest by number of outlets -- is quality control and uniformity. You ought to be able to roll up to a Subway anywhere in the country and know that the brand stands for certain things. They're saying, essentially, that you can't.”