Subway sales so strong marketer delays new ads

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The first Subway Restaurants campaign from Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, will have to wait.

The sandwich chain is postponing the launch of its new $75 million branding campaign because sales continue to surge under two health-focused commercials from former agency Publicis & Hal Riney, Chicago. The spots feature Jared Fogle, who lost 245 pounds on a strictly Subway diet, and Tae Bo master Billy Blanks.

PHENOMENON CREATORS

"Sales are running so strong we will continue to run Jared and Billy Blanks," said Chris Carroll, director of marketing, Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust. "There's more attention with sales where they are now than when sales [increases] were at 5%, and 5% is good. I've changed my plan multiple times this year just to take advantage of this Jared and Billy Blanks phenomenon."

The company has signed Mr. Fogle for another ad to run later in the summer. "I can't believe the interest in [Mr. Fogle]. He's so genuine." Mr. Carroll said. "When he would participate in local market promotions, he would be on TV and radio interviews all day long."

No creative has been written for the new spot, but Mr. Carroll said it would update the 22-year-old Mr. Fogle's ongoing weight loss.

The success of the two spots has surprised everybody at the chain who thought the low-fat message was running out of steam.

"We've been doing low-fat for 31/2 years and did well, but driving the business 15% to 20% is unbelievable," Mr. Carroll said.

Subway's 1999 sales were flat at $3.2 billion; the two well-performing spots began in January of this year.

The spots' success is bittersweet vindication for Riney, said agency President Barry Krause. The shop financed the Jared ad itself after Subway rejected the idea three times.

"With our experience in health clubs and other business, we knew they had to take advantage of this [story] considering the new year and millennium," Mr. Krause said. After sparking a huge buzz from the Jared spot for the Chicago/Northwest Indiana co-op, Subway called Mr. Krause to ask if it could run the ad nationally. Sales rocketed into the 20%-plus range, and in some stores sales burst by 40%.

Eventually, Subway intends to shift its advertising focus away from the low-fat message to a more taste-focused positioning (AA, April 5). Last summer, Subway launched a review and March hired Messner Vetere.

MYSTERY VOICE-OVER

The new branding spots from Messner Vetere will include the tagline "Eat fresh" and employ a spokeshand trying to convince consumers to eat at the chain. A second spot zooms in on the hands of a crew "sandwich artist" assembling a custom sub. The spots, which are going through the final approval phase, will feature an undisclosed celebrity voice-over. The soonest the branding campaign would break is late summer.

In the meantime, Mr. Carroll made it clear the ongoing promotional spots featuring Messrs. Fogle and Blanks are no substitute for a branding campaign.

"We've got to have a campaign," he said, adding that Messner Vetere and the chain's board are fine with the delay. "The last thing you want to do is launch a new campaign [so close] on the heels of this campaign."

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