Crises communications experts’ reactions to the suspension of longtime Subway spokesman Jared Fogle following an FBI raid of his home yesterday ranged from “what took so long?” to “don’t be surprised to see him bounce back.”
Marketing Daily’s Karlene Lukovitz fills us in on what is known about the investigation, Fogle’s recent work for the brand and reactions to the breaking news by marketing strategist Laura Ries. Subway announced that it and Fogle “have mutually agreed to suspend their relationship” after her story was posted yesterday.
Federal law enforcement officials would not comment on the reasons for the raid but it follows the arrest in May of Russell Taylor, the former executive director of Fogle’s foundation to battle childhood obesity. Taylor has been charged with seven counts of production of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography.
“Jared has been cooperating, and continues to cooperate, with law enforcement in their investigation of unspecified charges, and looks forward to its conclusion,” Fogle’s attorney, Ron Elberger, said in a statement.
“Hours after the story broke, Subway's corporate site still had Fogle featured prominently, detailing his history with the company and linking to his foundation, which seeks to combat childhood obesity,” writes Kate Gibson for CBS MoneyWatch in an indication of just how quickly crisis communications efforts need to be implemented nowadays.
“That's a moment of Subway being pretty tone deaf, or maybe not moving fast enough,” Daren Brabham, a communications professor at the University of Southern California, tells Gibson. “But by late afternoon, the site had no mention of Fogle, other than an illustration of a tweet relaying the mutual decision by the company and Fogle to temporarily part ways,” Gibson reports.
CNBC’s Michelle Castillo cautions “it's important to note that the company is just halting their partnership at this time, meaning there is still a chance that the two could work together in the future.”
“Whether he is guilty or not, Subway is currently being associated with child pornography, and so the most important thing to act on is to clarify that they take allegations of this nature very seriously with a short brand statement,” Sarah Aitken, CMO of the Americas at Iris Worldwide tells Castillo. “This isn't immediately cutting all ties with Fogle. It is saying that the brand of course stands against crimes of this nature and will help with any investigation if required.”
In recounting how he got to where he is — that is, as a bland brand ambassador with no marketable talent but a reputed $15 million bank account as a result of his shilling for the chain — the Washington Post’s Justin Wm. Moyer writes that we should not count out Fogle’s ability to bounce back:
“Somehow, the FBI’s interest in Fogle — why not just call him ‘Jared’? — only highlighted the (for now) suspended brand ambassador’s fundamental appeal: He is a blank slate. If this pitchman is leading a sordid double life — if he is a Bill Cosby, a Lance Armstrong, a Jerry Sandusky — it won’t just be unexpected. It will be a complete shock.”
Moyer refers to a 2008 profile by Will Higgins of the Indianapolis Star, who saw Fogle’s “remarkable unremarkability as key to his success.” Higgins wrote: “His persona is friendly, not funny; kindly, not abrasive. His charm is a kind of Johnny Carson-like insipidity that may not excite but wears well over time.”
The Star has extensive coverage today, ranging from a backgrounder on the events leading to the search of Fogle’s home in Zionsville, an affluent Indianapolis suburb, to a look at his work for the Jared Foundation.
“According to news reports, the foundation sent him to speak to thousands of students at hundreds of schools across the country each year, each time holding up his iconic size-60 pants to illustrate his weight loss,” write Chris Sikich and Stephanie Wang. “It was unclear Tuesday if Taylor, the foundation's only paid employee, attended any of those events.”
Ira Kalb, assistant professor of clinical marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business, tells the Los Angeles Times’ Christina Littlefield that Subway “is probably ‘hedging its bets’ and following good crisis management.” She says it “will have to drop Fogle if he's charged, but in the meantime it should stay quiet and avoid promoting any rumors,” Littlefield writes.
“If something happens to his reputation, that is going to spill over to the brand,” Kalb says. “That is why many brands use mascots…. People sometimes get into trouble, and if they do, they take the brand with them.”