Jersey Mike's Subs is hungry for even more growth.
The expanding chain, which began in 1956 as a single Mike's Subs shop in Point Pleasant, N.J., is building on its "A Sub Above" tagline with a new campaign called "The Sub Above Difference."
In one of the first new commercials, Jersey Mike's makes a voiceover dig at other chains that do not grill their cheese steaks while ths spot shows the cooking process it uses.
Another focuses on how the chain cooks roast beef in the shop, a third emphasizes the size of the sandwiches and a fourth focuses on being simple, with the line "be all sub, and no -stitute."
"Brands today that are focusing on the quality and visually what it means instead of just saying what it means, I think, do a much better job," said Darren Tristano, president of industry research firm Technomic, who had not seen the new Jersey Mike's commercials. Showing such elements can help some sandwich shops stand out from fast food and from chains such as Subway, where items are pre-sliced.
Jersey Mike's has pulled ahead of Firehouse Subs to become the second-largest chain in sales in the "better sandwich" category behind Jimmy John's, Mr. Tristano said. Still, Subway is substantially bigger than all three combined. Subway rang up $11.5 billion in sales last year, though its sales declined about 3% in 2014 and a steeper 3.4% in 2015.
Jersey Mike's sales soared 28.6% to $675 million in 2015, as its number of locations jumped 22.1% to 1,046, according to Technomic.
The category is seeing a flurry of advertising. Subway continues to tout freshness and its latest commercials feature a pilgrim character to promote its new carved turkey. Firehouse promotes itself as "the hero of all subs." And Jimmy John's continues to focus on attributes such as its "Freaky Fast" and "Freaky Fresh" delivery.
Jersey Mike's first four new TV commercials are set to begin airing April 18, followed by additional batches of four in the third and fourth quarters, for a total of 12 spots that will be in rotation by the end of the year.
The work comes from Planet Propaganda, Madison, Wisc., which has worked with the chain since 2013 including on the "A Sub Above" work that began airing in 2014. The agency helped the growing chain find and focus on its strategic idea of "help nourish, help flourish, be a sub above," said Greg Wold, partner and account director at Planet Propaganda.
The new campaign "builds on our past work that helped us outpace the industry on same-store sales," Jersey Mike's Subs Chief Marketing Officer Rich Hope said in a statement.
The spots show real employees in the restaurants to familiarize people with the concept, after using animation in some earlier commercials. Future 15-second ads will focus on ingredients and other preparation techniques, such as grilling bacon each morning, Mr. Wold said.
The TV spots are all 15 seconds long, a switch from the chain's prior use of 30-second spots. At least 80% of the TV buy will include the first and last positions of a commercial break, Mr. Wold said. Most of the TV spots will air during sports, Mr. Wold said, adding that about 70% of the campaign will be on TV, along with radio, digital and outdoor advertising.
Jersey Mike's handles its own media buying, Mr. Wold said.