Quiznos CMO: We Want to Be Pepsi to Subway's Coke

Steve Provost Aims to Boost Sales by Wooing Women

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A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.

CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Could Quiznos be growing up?

The sandwich chain that gave us Baby Bob, a man suckling a wolf and those curious Spongemonkeys is now showing a softer and gentler side. Chief Marketing Officer Steve Provost, a former executive at Yum Brands, said the chain is trying to win back women, many of whom have been alienated by its focus on big rolls, double meat and fancy sauces.
Steve Provost
Steve Provost

A recent spot by agency Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York, features an average-looking woman on a park bench enjoying a Sammie, a 200-calorie, gyro-style product priced at $2. She's seated next to a supermodel type who says, to the woman's delight: "I hate you."

Though the traditional fast-food target is teen males, McDonald's has successfully lured more women, and the demographic makes sense for Quiznos, which has struggled with profitability in recent years. Last year turnaround artist Greg Brenneman, formerly of Burger King, took over as CEO, promising to boost franchisee profitability and expand into new areas, such as airports.

The competitive landscape remains fierce. Rival Subway has 29,000 stores in 86 countries compared to Quiznos' 5,000. Quiznos spent $76 million in measured media during 2006, according to TNS Media Intelligence, and is easily on track to pass that mark in 2007, with $54 million spent during the first nine months of the year.

Ad Age: Quiznos launched Sammies during the holidays, when most people aren't thinking about diets. How did that work for you?

Steve Provost: We launched at kind of an unusual time -- prior to Thanksgiving and continued to advertise right up to Christmas, and we saw almost a 10% improvement in transactions overall. Over Christmas, the product settled in at 15% of overall menu [sales].

Ad Age: This product is an interesting simultaneous answer -- better-for-you and value pricing. What has the customer mix been on these items?

Mr. Provost: About 70% of Sammies' consumers are female. Women looking for an indulgence at lunch but basically can't handle a huge sub and a portion control without having to compromise taste. We got a lot of compliments from big guys who buy two or three of these for lunch. It's got to be the best new-product launch in at least a half decade for Quiznos.

Ad Age: What inspired you to go after women in this way?

Mr. Provost: As a woman once said in a focus group, "Why should I pay more when I eat less?" Salads are traditionally priced above burgers and fries. There are very few places left in category, but the intersection of value and health is relatively open space. I was excited to see this product sitting on the shelf [when I arrived].

Ad Age: When you came to Quiznos last March, what were some of the biggest obstacles that you faced?

Mr. Provost: The biggest obstacle was improving the profitability of franchisee stores. From a marketing perspective, that meant eliminating low-mix menu items, pulling back on excessive discounting and cutting back slightly on double-meat specs on premium subs. Once we were able to improve franchisee profitability, then we could really take consumer barriers to frequency and trial on our terms.

Ad Age: What does that mean?

Mr. Provost: Sammies is a great example of doing value in a way we can sustain day after day and advertising window after advertising window. Excessive discounting isn't sustainable long term because franchise profitability suffers.

Ad Age: You've also launched a delivery service for lunch. What inspired that?

Mr. Provost: The average lunch hour has shrunk to 23 minutes. Consumers love our food but love it more when we can bring it to your desk. One-sixth of our stores in six months have rolled out lunchtime catering and delivery. It gives us a big inroad into databases and the internet market to reach people like you and me, hassled, harried white-collar workers.

Ad Age: Where do you see the awareness level of this offering?

Mr. Provost: The awareness is very low, but consistent with any new offering. The key will be establishing web marketing. We know the lunch hour is 23 minutes and we know the media you're consuming is the web. We're trying to create awareness in a nontraditional way while we emphasize our Sammies with TV.

Ad Age: With the current economic climate, how do you plan to compete with Subway?

Mr. Provost: Subway is a formidable competitor, but they're a low mark to our target. One of the reasons our customers come here is that, long term, people want luxury in their everyday consumption. That's been a dominant trend.

Ad Age: So you're willing to go premium when almost everyone else is focusing on value?

Mr. Provost: I'd rather be the quality play than value play, and I'll say that in times of economic growth and I'll say that in a recession. Because this part of the restaurant business is so fast-growing, we have a lot of rigorous competition. The cool thing it that everybody wants in. We want to be Pepsi to Subway's Coke.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported when CEO Greg Brenneman started. He joined the chain in January 2007, not 2008.
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