Subway, will you please, please, please stop changing who you are?

My whole marketing life I have considered Luke Sullivan a hero. He’s a great thinker, he teaches by example (he’s one of the most revered advertising writers ever, and pretty much certainly the most respected American advertising writer alive), and he’s generous with his clear, rational, funny advice.

He posted this blog over the weekend. Go read it. I’ll wait here.

Okay, hi.

(Thanks for coming back.)

Here is one great Subway ad, and one fairly great one, in my opinion. Luke referenced them in his blog post.

Those are concepts that Subway could stand for. Subway could own those.

And within those, as Luke points out, they could and should do promotions.

But Subway abandoned those ads. (Actually, I think they go back and run the “Fat” around New Year’s Resolution time annually, maybe. I don’t know. They have no coherent plan.)

Here’s the last promo of theirs I can remember:

What on earth? That’s not branding. That’s money flowing. That’s contracts being signed and hands being shaken.

And here’s an ad campaign that until I was writing this I’d forgotten was for Subway because it has nothing to do with who they really are:

That ad is amusing, kind of, but it isn’t as relevant and ownable as the Badonkadonk ad.

It seems kind of obvious. One is branding, the other is just innocent, silly, forgettable, random fun.

I can picture someone asserting himself or herself at some point, I’m sure, and saying something bold like “Those image ads don’t work. We need hard-working promotional advertising.” Then they sit back down and eat the free lunch being catered to the board meeting.

Eventually no wonder it’s hard to resist just giving up and hiring the jingle singers:

If you have nothing to say, sing it: it’s an old advertising aphorism.

In the end, as Luke points out, it might be okay if they just stuck with Jared and gave him some larger branded meaning besides his basic story. Right now, all Jared communicates is “They pay me to keep showing up + I haven’t died yet.”

Subway’s brand—not just their ads, but their entire brand—changes like the weather, and not the Southern California weather. Like forgettable, random, Rust Belt weather that’s literally here today and then gone. Gone.

Did you watch the TV show about ad agencies called “The Pitch?” Basic premise: two agencies are given the same assignment and reality TV camera operators descend on their agencies and produce a heavily edited version of the events that led up to the presentation of some creative concepts. Then the client chooses which of the two “wins” and has, I think, the option to run the work.

The first episode of “The Pitch” showed two agencies bringing ideas to Subway. One was a funny, intelligent idea that grew out of a truth about the brand. The other was borrowed interest from an internet meme.

Guess which one Subway picked?


One comment

  1. Subway just wants to be hip and cool with the younger crowd when they forget that they need to focus on re branding, having good low-fat food compared to the high fats of most fast food. Their quality is beginning to lack, and other players like Chipotle and Smashburger are new taking over their type of customers.

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