CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Subway has decided to stand by its man despite his bong antics, but the nation's largest fast-food chain is likely to backburner its first TV campaign starring mega-endorser and Olympian Michael Phelps.
"Like most Americans, and like Michael Phelps himself, we were disappointed in his behavior," Subway said in a statement. "Also like most Americans, we accept his apology. Moving forward, he remains in our plans."
Executives close to the matter, however, say that the campaign, originally slated for early 2009, will be delayed. But according to a spokeswoman for the Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust, "Our statement says nothing about creative and to our knowledge [SubwayFreshBuzz] has not changed," a spokeswoman said.
The chain removed Mr. Phelps from its SubwayFreshBuzz website this afternoon. It now lists Ryan Howard, Chris Long and Reggie Bush as "Fresh Celebrities." Mr. Phelps once topped the list. While a Google search turns up a Freshbuzz URL dedicated to Mr. Phelps, his name does not appear on the front end of the Freshbuzz site or in drop-down menus pointing to Freshbuzz's other celebrity endorsers.
Mr. Phelps' problems began last week after a picture of the Olympian smoking marijuana appeared in the press and the story has only gained momentum.
Subway locked Mr. Phelps into a multiyear, restaurant-exclusive deal, with plans to use his popularity overseas in December. In so doing, it beat out a number of other bidders. The sandwich chain is building its international presence, and his virtual lock on the 2012 Olympics seemed to be a major selling point. The swimmer, who admitted some doubt about participating in the next Olympic Games earlier this week, may have raised questions about his utility moving forward.
At the time, Subway's Phelps deal seemed to be a black eye for McDonald's, which Mr. Phelps and his team courted ruthlessly. "McDonald's is Goliath, and we're David," Tony Pace, chief marketing officer for the Subway Advertising Fund Trust, said at the time. "Fortunately I have a pretty good slingshot."
Kellogg cut ties with Mr. Phelps yesterday, describing his "recent behavior" as being "inconsistent" with the company's image. The company pointed out that its contract with Mr. Phelps was set to expire at the end of February, and an executive familiar with the matter said that cereal company did not have an option to renew it.
The Kellogg and Subway endorsements additionally appear to have been hard-fought. The cereal maker beat out General Mills' Wheaties for an exclusive-to-cereal deal, announced in August. He may not have proven to be one of the brand's most outspoken advocates.