Subway: Bob Ocwieja

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When Subway franchisee Bob Ocwieja saw an article in the November 1999 issue of Rodale's Men's Health about an Indiana University student who lost 250 pounds on a diet of Subway sandwiches, he knew he'd landed on a possible PR bonanza.

But Mr. Ocwieja, whose name sounds like the clairvoyant board game, couldn't have predicted the wild success Jared Fogel has brought Subway Restaurants.

As chairman of the Chicago & Northwest Indiana Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust, Mr. Ocwieja, 48, had been scheduled to lunch with the co-op's agency at the time, the Chicago office of Publicis Groupe, now Publicis in Mid-America, which was being fired as the chain's national shop. The co-op had an open advertising slot for January 2000, an ideal time to promote Subway's" 7 Under 6" low-fat sandwich line.

"We just thought it was a perfect health and diet idea to do when people are trying to get into bikinis and bathing suits," says the operator of 10 Illinois units. On backs of napkins the agency drew storyboards and mapped out an action plan to present to the national advertising board. Riney tracked down Mr. Fogel in Indianapolis and convinced him to participate in the campaign.

Mr. Ocwieja and the agency submitted the concept, but it was considered off strategy by a newly installed marketing team that wanted to reposition the brand on its fresh fare. While accounts vary over what happened next, the ad ultimately was approved to run in Chicago during "open windows" between national or other specified promotional periods. After the first spot aired on Jan. 3, 2000, Jared was an instant celebrity. TV appearance requests rolled in from Oprah Winfrey and NBC's "Today," and dozens of local co-ops requested the campaign for their own spot buys. Within days the national advertising board adopted the spot for national distribution.

"As it turned out, national ended up picking up and paying for the commercial anyhow," Mr. Ocwieja says. Subway sales in some markets spurted by as much as 25% over the prior year. "We've never seen sales growth like this," says Mr. Ocwieja.

In February 2000, Doctors Associates-owned Subway selected Havas Advertising's Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, as its national agency. The shop created a second series of spots, these featuring other dieters inspired by Jared. Last month, Mr. Fogel started appearing in his sixth batch of TV spots touting the low-fat sandwiches.

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