SUBWAY'S FEELING OK ABOUT BEING BAD

Why The Sandwich Chain's New Ads Miss the Mark

By Published on .

Client: Subway
Agency: Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis
Star Rating: 2.5

Sometimes you just have to work a little harder.

Sometimes you come up with a very strong idea -- an idea that could be extraordinary -- but you settle for something less

A cross-dressing husband is the gag in one Subway ad.
A husband doing a pole dance is the joke in another Subway ad.
because you lack the discipline to make it perfect.

Meet the new Subway campaign -- or campaigns -- from Fallon Worldwide, Minneapolis.

Dietary license to cheat
Half of the ads explore the powerful notion of dietary license: how a low-fat Subway lunch lets you cheat elsewhere in the day. One spot opens with a husband catching his wife eating ice cream from the carton. "It's OK," she says. "I had Subway for lunch." This gets him thinking. Next, we see him outside washing the car ... in a girl's cheerleader uniform.

"It's OK!" he says. "I had Subway."

Hmm. Seems familiar: taking the brand proposition to absurdly exaggerated lengths, just like Fallon's Holiday Inn Express campaign. In fairness, the joke makes more sense here. The hyperbolic expansion of "It's OK. I had Subway" is vastly more relevant to the brand promise than the conflation of highly educated "smart" and the prudent-spending "smart" of a budget hotel stay.

Come to think of it, the cross-dressing hubby also recalls another previous Fallon Holiday Inn ad, from the Super Bowl a few years back, about a transsexual at the high school reunion. That stupid, juvenile gag was wildly wrong for that advertiser, and the man with pompons isn't much better here.

Unnecessarily cruel
Likewise the spot called "Doctor," which shows a physician momentarily tricking a patient into thinking he has a terminal illness. Besides being unnecessarily cruel/off-color, these punch lines are simply trite. Are there no more trenchant, clever ways to pay off the gag?

Yes, there are. These choices are a little obnoxious and extremely lazy.

That's one pool of spots. The other takes the once morbidly overweight Jared, who has long personified Subway's low-fat advantage, and tried to play him for laughs. The strain to pull it off is palpable.

Not only do they have to turn this monumentally uncharismatic schnook into a personality, they once again have to hide from view whatever gigantic portion of his torso Subway has been camouflaging for two years. The poor guy hasn't been photographed below the waist since the Clinton administration.

Wet-your-pants funny
The contrivance is to turn Jared into a televised Dear Abby, seated behind a desk fielding thorny life questions and answering them always with -- ha ha -- advice to eat a particular Subway sandwich. Three of the four spots are leaden beyond belief. The fourth, however, is wet-your-pants funny. It features a paratrooper describing a free-fall in which all chutes fail. He then asks Jared what he would do.

Jared shrieks in panic at the top of his lungs.

So, yeah, that one is a hoot. However, it doesn't, as they say, leverage Jared's equity. We could be wrong, but it sure looks like Fallon couldn't fit him into the central concept of the main campaign, so it cooked up a gimmick for getting him in a few spots to get the franchisees off the agency's back.

Fat chance. Skinny-to-funny is a gimmick. Obese-to-skinny is a selling proposition.

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