CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- In the last year, Subway spokesman Jared Fogle admitted to a 40-pound weight gain, committed to running the ING New York City Marathon and completed it in just more than five hours. That was undoubtedly good for his health, but what did it do for the health of the brand?
"The fact that he gained weight and was able to take it off is actually inspirational," said Tony Pace, senior VP-chief marketing officer, Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust. "He has that quality given what he was able to accomplish. It's a real story. He's not a marketing artifice in that regard."
Mr. Pace said Subway's social-media engagement has gone up considerably in the weeks since the marathon, especially on Facebook.
Indeed, according to the Marketing Arm's Davie Brown Index, designed to give marketers a way to quantify a celebrity's brand attributes, Mr. Fogle's brand showed an uptick in awareness, which rose about four points, from 74 to 78, on a scale of 1 to 100. But the Jared brand took a dip in six of the eight measures-including the trend-setter, influence, aspiration and endorsement categories. The exception was trust, which stayed flat. (The survey polls 1,000 people and the ratings changes are since October 2009, which in part precedes the news of Jared's 40-pound weight gain, which came to light in January 2010.)
It might be tempting, then, to surmise that consumers liked Jared less as he gained weight but that's not the case. Marketing Arm said that the dip is a logical outgrowth of his 10-plus-year tenure as Subway spokesman. "When awareness goes up, other scores tend to go down. The more people that know a spokesperson, there's a better chance there's something about them people don't like," said Matt Delzell, group account director at the Marketing Arm's entertainment practice. "The marathon did bring him more recognizability and awareness, which is probably good for Subway. These drops in ratings don't have a negative impact on his overall marketing ability."
That's because he's not a trend-setter, and people don't aspire to be him, but that's not where Jared's value lies. For Subway, his importance lies in being "just a normal guy," said Mr. Delzell.
"The reason Jared is still a good endorser is that the story of struggling with weight doesn't become old. There are always people looking for that story. For all the people who say, 'We get it,' there will be people who need that story of a person struggling with weight. Likability is such an important factor for him and for Subway. He has to be a relatable guy for people to listen to him. People don't necessarily want his life, so he has to be trustworthy and likeable."
As for Subway's future plans with Mr. Fogle, Mr. Pace said the fast feeder is working on a number of different options, but nothing has yet been decided. "Jared's been a wonderful asset for the brand. At the end of the day, he has iconic stature, which helps the brand in many ways. We're also looking to things to take to the next level."
So maybe there's a triathlon in Jared's future.