Subway to Launch Its Biggest Kids' Marketing Effort

Messaging Will Include 'Playtime, Powered by Veggies'

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Playtime is about to be powered by veggies.

At least that's the messaging for Subway's biggest children's marketing campaign yet, which will launch in early February. News of the campaign comes in conjunction with Subway's announcement that it is joining Partnership for a Healthier America, which is backed by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Subway's in-store marketing
Subway's in-store marketing Credit: Subway

As part of its PHA commitment, Subway will launch a series of campaigns focused on increasing fruit and vegetable consumption among kids; set and implement new marketing standards to kids; and improve its kids menu offerings.

"Our goal is not to just increase veggie consumption," said Subway Chief Marketing Officer Tony Pace. The point is "trying to get kids to want to order veggies. Our meals aren't premade, so we're going to try to get kid consumers to ask us to pile on the cucumbers or the spinach."

Subway said it would invest about $41 million over three years to kids' marketing, which will include TV, digital marketing, in-store merchandising and digital and social media. TV spots, created by Subway's agency MMB, are expected to launch in March and will include pile-on-the-veggies messaging. Digital is also expected to launch in March. Subway typically does not offer toys in its kids' meals, but Mr. Pace said that the chain is considering including educational materials that focus on education, possibly around the back-to-school season. A video collaboration with Disney's Muppets franchise is also in the works.

Mr. Pace did not detail what much of the creative will be like for the campaigns, but noted that the marketing may include slogans beyond "Playtime, powered by veggies" such as its well known "Eat fresh." He declined to say how much of an increase in marketing spend the effort will be over previous efforts, though Subway has historically not been a huge spender on measured-media marketing towards kids.

From January through September, it spent $5.2 million on U.S. measured media, according to Kantar Media, out of a total of $396 million spent in U.S. marketing. In 2012, it spent close to $7 million on its Fresh Fit Meals for Kids out of $515 million, up from about $2.2 million out of $475 million the prior year. McDonald's, by comparison, can spend more than Subway's three-year $41 million effort in one year on Happy Meals. In 2012, the chain spent about $54 million on U.S. measured media.

Subway, which began offering kids meals in 2007, said its kids meals will meet guidelines set by federal nutritional standards for the national school lunch program, which means the meals will be no more than 600 calories, will have no artificial trans fat, will have less than 10% of calories from saturated fat and less than 935 milligrams of sodium. The meals will also provide a serving each of fruit and vegetables, as well as non-fat milk or water. The chain said it will also work to develop bread options that meet dietary guidelines.

"I could, but won't, nitpick over the nutrition standards," said "Food Politics" author Marion Nestle in a blog post today. "Let's just say they are a start. But I love it that Subway is focusing on foods -- veggies, apples, and no sodas unless parents specifically order them. And I think 'pile on the veggies' is one terrific slogan."

The issue of kids' meals has been a highly debated subject in recent years, growing to the point that chains such as McDonald's revamped its kids' meals in September 2011 and the National Restaurant Association launched its voluntary KidsLiveWell initiative, which requires that participating chains offer one healthy kids' meal option.

And still most chain restaurants are criticized for their kids meals, with critics arguing that the offferings are not healthy enough. Last year, Center for Science in the Public Interest conducted a study of kids meals and found that 97% of kids meals at top U.S. restaurant chains do not meet its nutritional criteria. The only chain that did? Subway.

Subway is the first fast-food restaurant to join PHA. Darden Restaurants is also a partner.

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