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The stunning downfall of “the Subway Guy” — aka Jared Fogle — is a cautionary tale for advertisers who employ spokespeople as endorsers for their products or services. In a recent Dish column in ER magazine entitled “Pitch Perfect,” I explored the debate of whether to use a celebrity or a professional pitch person. But Jared represents a whole different category unto itself: the citizen hero testimonial. Jared was a seeming everyman whose weight-loss journey was a powerful tribute to the health benefits of the Subway menu when compared to other fast food alternatives. How powerful? According to Ad Age, in a 2013 Consumer Brand Metrics study from restaurant advisory group Technomic, entitled “Perceptions of Restaurant Advertising: Consumer Assessments of the Leading Chain Brands,” Subway was ranked highest on the relatability scale at 75.1 percent.
This explains why, despite efforts to diverge from Jared that included engaging Olympic athletes (remember Apollo Ohno?), value menu pitches ($5 footlongs!) and other gambits, Subway kept returning again and again to Jared over a decade-and-a-half period. Jared’s enduring story of going from a 400+-pound morbidly obese nobody into a reality show-like fixture on daytime talk shows, gave people hope. In a world where consumers are overwhelmed by thousands of marketing messages each day, Jared’s dramatic arc provided neat shorthand. It is a testament to the power that such stories wield; they cut through media clutter and leave an indelible impression (a topic I will be covering in a Learning Lounge session at this year’s D2C Convention entitled, “The Never-ending Story: Creating an Engaging Brand.”)
As a result of this success, Jared Fogle became a very wealthy man. Unbeknownst to his employer or an adoring public, he used his enrichment in the most monstrous ways imaginable, confessing to collecting and distributing child pornography and engaging minors in acts of prostitution. While advertisers may attempt to mitigate such circumstances with morals clauses in their endorser’s contracts, the fallout this situation is likely to create will be monumental — at least in the short-term.
Oh no, indeed. The perception consumers had of your brand is no longer here either.
Unlike Nike, which has faced many scandals with its athlete-endorsers over the years, Subway has maintained little to no diversification. Jared’s ruinous descent is convincing evidence as to why it is imperative that marketers diversify their brand goodwill; that they not put all of their proverbial eggs in one personality’s basket. When the individual most associated with a brand is using that basket to lure innocent children into unspeakable acts, the stomach-churning reality is that few citizens among us are likely to want to “Eat Fresh.”
Photo by tupungato/iStockphoto.com
Rick Petry is a freelance writer who specializes in direct marketing and is a past chairman of ERA. He can be reached at (503) 740-9065 or online at rickpetry.com and @thepetrydish on Twitter.