Yet, whatever benefit Quiznos gets from its offer, which runs through Oct. 22, could be short-lived and even backfire, because Subway is plotting its own upgraded chunky Steak and Cheese sub to be launched by Sept. 25.
Hyped as having a double portion of real prime rib, Quiznos' sandwich is backed by an offer of a free sandwich if this one fails to impress. In a TV spot from WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago, macho guys from cops to construction workers are stopped on the street and asked to look over the two sandwiches and state which they'd prefer. Of course, they all point out the much beefier Quiznos product.
To lend credence to its objective advantage, Quiznos boasted that the sandwiches in the ads were purchased at the same time under the supervision of independent auditors.
Even if consumers are wowed by the sandwich's eye appeal, the real question is whether consumers will balk at its prices. Suggested prices for the Quiznos sandwich range from $5.29 for the small to $9.99 for the large and can cost as much as $12 in some locales. Most sub chains offer an extra portion of meat for less than a buck, so for $2 more, a Subway sandwich could easily surpass the heft of the Quiznos version. Then the comparison becomes even more subjective.
"Comparative advertising is very risky business," said Tom Barry, professor-marketing at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business. He noted that a recent study showed that upstart brands can ride the coattails of an existing brand, but brands are already established in the marketplace don't have that luxury. "You're giving your competitor time in your ads."
Others question whether the effort is really a comparative one or merely a demonstration of value. "Comparative advertising makes the people doing it feel better" but has less affect on the competition or the customer, said John Greening, associate professor of integrated marketing communications at Northwestern University's Medill School, adding that the effort may be more of an internal rallying cry and a place of consensus than a long-term brand-building strategy.
"Subway has been effective with its fresh position and diet position around Jared [Fogle, the longtime spokesman who claims to have lost weight eating Subway sandwiches]. Quiznos does not have a brand promise. Their brand at this point is 'attack the other guy.' That's not a brand."
Struggling for an identity
Indeed, since Subway co-opted Quiznos' point of differentiation around toasted sandwiches, Quiznos is struggling to create a new identity. With new agency Ogilvy, advertising has been very food-centered and heavy on the Subway comparisons after years of kitsch and outrageousness. Quiznos did not respond to repeated calls for comment.
"We want them to show the food and educate [consumers] about the food," said Jehad Majed, a Quiznos franchisee with a single store located in Dearborn Heights, Mich. "Another thing that Quiznos doesn't advertise is that we slice everything fresh. Comparing our sandwich to Subway's is a start."
Or is it? "We don't really notice them," said Mark Roden, a Subway franchisee with 48 of Subway's 19,600 units. "In many markets, they're really not a player."