In case you missed this item on the evening news, 7-Eleven's new line of Big Eats deli sandwiches has been awarded the American Tasting Institute's gold medal in the pre-made cold sandwiches category-elevating 7-Eleven to the rarified company of Nice-Pak (sanitary wipes), Advanced Vapor Technologies (steam cleaners) and, of course, Snackmasters, medalist in the hotly contested beef jerky category. So a nice note to the new honoree might be in order.
A second look at 7-Eleven as a meal option might be in order, too. Big Eats is the chain's worldwide attempt to grab a bite of the $200 billion fast-food business, and especially that $5 billion mouthful owned by Subway. Goodbye egg-salad -on-white, hello Savory Roast Beef and Bacon with Southwest Mayo.
An obvious improvement, no guarantee of success. For starters, 7-Eleven isn't much blessed with fast-food locations. It has convenience-store locations, with tiny parking lots, limited checkout space and an extremely limited menu. It may be able to sell the odd Savory Roast Beef to a midday shopper running in for cigarettes or a phone card, but mainly Big Eats will cannibalize the chain's existing selection of pre-wrapped sandwiches, hot dogs and pizza.
Which constitute the real obstacle.
Have you ever looked at 7-Eleven pizza under that heat lamp? Or at the dogs, coated in a film of 10W-30, rolling back and forth on that steel Frankfurter Perpetual Motion Device? The crusted over chili topping and the vat of too-yellow melted cheese verge on self-parody-and also on bio-warfare. If Saddam exported that stuff, the world would be pleading for Bush to invade.
Relatively speaking, 7-Eleven's pre-wrapped sandwiches have always been an oasis of near palatability-provided you had the engineering capabilities to liberate the egg-salad-on-white from the cellophane, and didn't mind the refrigerator-case-condensate condiment that came free of charge. All of which is to say, thank heaven for 7-Eleven's quick-bite upgrade, but understand that there will be a lot of deeply-embedded consumer resistance.
The advertising's task: to neutralize the revulsion.
So far, so good. The current spot from GSD&M, Austin, Texas, does a reasonable job of introducing Big Eats as a viable, reasonably attractive lunchtime option. This is accomplished by showing a guy eating one at lunchtime, next to a co-worker poking discontentedly at a fast-food salad.
"Whatcha got there?" she asks.
"Turkey club," he replies.
"Can I have a bite?"
He hands her a half of his sandwich, which she stuffs in her mouth whole.
"Mmm mm mm," she says. "It's good."
The joke isn't unfunny, and the point is made-although the action is kind of revolting in its own right. The bigger problem, though, is that the Big Eat doesn't look so big. It looks small, and so do the three other sandwiches shown at the end. The spot breaks the cardinal rule of fast-food advertising by declining to show the product in all its luscious, satisfying plumpness.
So, it's no gold medalist. But it's no greasy, rolling dog, either.