Subway's tasteful theme shifts low-fat positioning

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"Gotta have it taste" will be the focus of new ads to be launched this summer for Subway Restaurants.

The campaign is part of a repositioning effort that will expand Subway's menu with more flavorful sandwiches as complements to its low-fat offerings. New ads will split the chain's products into two key categories: low-fat as well as high-quality, great tasting and wholesome.


The new strategy is a major departure from the chain's low-fat mantra, which has led to a sales plateau. While Subway won't abandon that message entirely, the company said it plans to evolve its product quality positioning.

"In research, consumers say, `You have great taste, but you don't talk about it,' " said Chris Carroll, director of marketing for the chain's Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust. "We're dimensionalizing [our] brand to focus on full flavor."

Even though sales jumped 8% in first-quarter 2000, Subway's sales over the last two years have been flat, Mr. Carroll said. While the privately held company doesn't release financial results, its 1998 sales were calculated at $3.1 billion by research company Technomic, which estimated the chain accounts for a 27% share of the sandwich chain sector. Ironically, the company posted some of its best results during the last six to eight weeks because of its health-focused ads featuring Tae-Bo expert Billy Blanks and the Subway dieter, Jared Fogle.

Following several years of local agency consolidations, Subway tapped Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, as its national creative agency in late March. The shop was chosen over finalists Mullen, Wenham, Mass., and the Martin Agency, Richmond, Va. Publicis & Hal Riney, Chicago, is the previous agency.

Messner will handle creative on the account. Grey Advertising's MediaCom will handle $60 million in national media buying and planning. It also will coordinate media with local shops for Subway's $80 million in local advertising.


Subway will begin testing one of Messner's ideas in the next few weeks. Once refined, the new campaign will break in mid-July. A major focus of the effort will be "to get heavy users to come into Subway," said Mr. Carroll, who noted that junk-food obsessed teens have been indifferent to the chain's health message.

"We know we lost some share [among consumers ages] 13 to 17 over the last four years because of the low-fat message," Mr. Carroll said. "A lot of stuff Riney does well doesn't appeal to a younger target."

To help recapture lapsed customers, the sandwich chain next week starts testing five new high-end subs called Signature Sandwiches in 800 stores across the country. The sandwiches feature a variety of spicy sauces, including a new version of honey mustard sauce for a ham, turkey and bacon sub; horseradish on roast beef; an asiago caesar sauce on chicken; and a southwestern sauce to dress a steak and cheese sub.

The new offerings will be priced between $2.49 and $2.99 for the 6-inch version; footlongs will be $4.49 to $4.99.

The sandwiches also will be offered in the chain's chip and drink combos.

The company is introducing new breads to expand its flavor profile, including hearty Italian style rolled in corn meal, a sesame loaf and a third that is flavored with oregano and parmesan cheese.


In the next year, the chain will begin rolling out a fresher look for its stores as well.

In winning the account, Messner took the review assignment and added new initiatives.

"That's something you look for but don't anticipate from an agency," Mr. Carroll said. Messner's assignment was to develop TV, radio and point of purchase. Messner included strategies for extending Subway's points of customer contact to include the Internet and in-store packaging.

"People spend more time staring at their cup and wiping their face with a napkin," Mr. Carroll said.

The agency's showmanship didn't hurt either. For its presentation, Messner built a 45-foot replica of a Subway outlet, complete with window lights and doors that became a giant white screen.

"It was overwhelming," Mr. Carroll said. "I was absolutely blown away."

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