Sub Standard Marketing – The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Sandwich Advertising

sub standard marketing - subway's marketing strategy image

Here’s some good life news: you don’t have to be smart to have a job.

You don’t even have to be good at your job to get your job.

I know this- because I watch commercials.  If you watch commercials, you know this too.  Commercials, an expensive product meant solely to make you want to buy something, can be so poorly planned that they actually have the exact opposite effect.  The person who makes these commercials, is getting paid a good sum of money to achieve these counter-productive results.

Really, anyone, can get a job (maybe more so when the economy escapes the sewer.)

“the Good Badger, can you give us a specific example of your proposed marketing incompetence?”

Why, yes I can, thanks for asking.

How Quizno’s Ran the Worst Marketing Campaign of all time

Anyone who’s eaten at Quizno’s knows first hand that they make a quality sandwich.  Put an unbranded Subway product next to Quizno’s and you’ll choose the latter 10 times out of 10 (assuming you have taste buds).  Although Quizno’s has the clear advantage on taste, Subway wins where it counts- selling sandwiches.

How is it that Subway sells more sandwiches with an inferior product?  Consumers will choose the best product, right?  Ask anyone who’s owned a Volkswagon Jetta- they know first hand that this is not the case.

Subway sells more sandwiches than Quizno’s because they understand marketing.  In the consumer’s brain, they’re buying Subway because it’s cheap, it’s fresh, and it’s healthy.  Let us consider a few of things though:

  1. Eating healthy, is not cheap. Especially if you’re eating out.  What Subway’s selling is cheap, low-quality vegetables.  A vegetable’s’ “health” is reflected in it’s color and water density.  A nutrientless vegetable is basically water and fiber, and you can get both of those much cheaper at a faucet and nutritional store. Are the vegetables that you’re getting at your Subway dark and water dense?  If so, I need to start going to your Subway.
  2. Eating Subway, is not cheap. At least not in comparison to other sub places and bringing your own sandwich.  The difference in cost between Subway and Quizno’s is much smaller than the difference between Subway and grocery shopping.  Going to the grocery store is both cheaper and healthier.  You eat out because it’s a treat, and the relative difference in cost to Quizno’s should be seemingly insignificant.
  3. You select the ingredients at every sandwich shop.  You can load your sandwich with chipotle mayonnaise, bacon, and cheddar at Subway and put only lettuce and vinegar on your sandwich at Quizno’s.  What you’re paying for at Subway is the idea of health.

Subway’s Marketing Strategy

Ask anyone what they know about “Jared” (don’t even prompt them on the subject) and they will likely tell you about an obese guy who walked to Subway and transformed his body to become only pretty chubby.  They repetitively drill into our heads this concept of cheap, fresh, and healthy.  You’ve seen Jared’s fat jeans more times than many of your own pants.  They hire professional athletes, the most physically conditioned people on earth, to endorse their product.  They use catchy songs to hook the low price of their sandwich in your head.  They have the consumer under their trance.

They- are good at marketing.

Now, let’s take a look at what Quizno’s wants us to know about their sandwiches:

Someone got paid to make that.

I understand what the commercial is trying to do- make 18 year old guys and pot heads laugh.  This is common practice with advertising.  Conventional wisdom states that the funnier the ad, the more likely you’ll be able to recall it, and thus it’s used as a barometer of success.  The only problem with this theory is it doesn’t workHumor by itself is not a recipe for advertising success. Humor can be a successful tactic IF it reinforces a positive trait of your company (or occasionally a negative quality of a competitor or both).  Otherwise, you’ll just recall the comedy and lose the brand, which might be a victory for the advertising agency but not for the company.

Consumers don’t process most decisions with any depth (we’re inundated with decisions every day, it’s a coping mechanism), so they construct shortcuts.  Brand perception is no exception.  The core responsibility for any marketing department, is to create the perception of the brand.  If this is done well, a good marketing strategy will build this meaningful shortcut for us.  If this is done poorly, rats with guitars will result.

Subway tactfully and consistently reinforces their mantra: cheap, fresh, healthy.  Quizno’s allocated their resources to periodontitis rodents.  This is a bad idea for most businesses, but if you’re in the business of selling food, you have successfully done irreparable damage to your brand.


Although the moral of this story would appear to be marketing-centric, it is not.  The key takeaway today lady or gentleman, is that if the Quizno’s head or marketing has a job, anyone can have any job.  Just imagine how easy it would be if you were really good at it and knew how to let people know it.

  • Garrett

    I’m at quiznos right meow. Everyday for lunch for probably 3 weeks. Idk where I’m going with this.
    In conclusion, the Italian torpedo is bomb.

  • You nailed it thusly:

    Humor + value = useful commercial.

    Humor alone = entertainment, but doesn’t necessarily = sales.

    Quizno’s should be able to compete in terms of quality ingredients, or variety, or sandwich size, or SOMETHING tangible. When the primary difference is a sense of humor, that’s not enough to make me cross the street when Subway’s next door. (And this also explains why Blimpie and every other sub chain has such trouble taking down the market leader: the differences are just too small.)

  • John

    This post makes some basic assumptions. Why don’t you figure out the marketing budget for each program then you can compare apples to oranges. Also see what their ad spends returned in sales. The fact that Quiznos can be mentioned along with subway even though Subway is 12 times larger says they are doing something right.

    A real comparison of marketing effectiveness would be McDonalds to Subway, about the same number of locations in the U.S.

  • This post does make some assumptions. One of them being that my readers wouldn’t expect a regression analysis. Another being, that a sandwich company putting a rat on screen for :20 seconds is exemplifies a poor understanding of psychology.

    Correlating the sales to an ad budget gives you just that, a correlation. Who’s to say is causal? Comparing Subway to McDonalds based solely on a marketing budget discounts the inherent difference between burgers and subs and consumer preference.

    There are a lot of factors to consider when looking at an ad budget, one of them being projected revenue growth. If a company isn’t growing, this could be a reflection of poor marketing in the past, thus limiting their ability to spend on advertising in the future. Who’s to say that pairing rodents next to your sandwich isn’t the reason for a reduced advertising budget in the first place?

    But this is all besides the point. The focus of the post was to compare one advertisement versus another. I’m guessing you would be hard pressed to find any competent CEO who would choose the singing rat over Jared’s fat pants. If I did a poor job in highlighting this point, I apologize.

    Besides, for this site, an apples to oranges comparison is much fairer than normal. At least they’re both fruit.

    Thanks for the comment regardless. A fair argument.

  • I am very familiar with the subject matter of this post as I was part of the media planning team for Q (after the sock-puppet campaign) for a little over a year. We could talk for hours about this! I have a ton of sandwich franchise competitive reports and research if you ever care to get inside scoop on the sandwich biz.

  • “Eating healthy is not cheap” – that is real talk. Why is that? Why is stir fry more expensive than a McDonalds Value Meal?

  • Because the cost of ingredients for your stir-fry are significantly more than the cost of ingredients that McDonald’s uses for it’s Value Meal, just like I’d be willing to put a lot of money on the line betting that the cost of ingredients that Quizno’s uses is higher than the cost of ingredients that Sub Way uses.

    Use ‘yer noggin.

  • Dude! in one day i have already become a straight up fan of your blog. I love how you combine music with market strategies all into one blog.. i used to work at quiznos haha and i couldn’t agree with you more. I sliced the tomato’s and veggies, i would slice all the cheese and meat.. the freshness of quiznos is completely above any other sandwich store.. yet with their expensive sandwiches it is hard to compete against the 5 dollar footlong that subways has to offer during this recession. Subway has been consistent from day one drilling people on healthy and cheap sandwiches, while quiznos always tries to come up with different strategies per each commercial without looking at the whole picture. great read!

  • Wow Blas, thanks for the props! The fandom is definitely reciprocated. The Hype Machine has led me to some amazing music blogs- The Music Ninja is way high on that list.

    I’ve definitely lost a lot of friend points with people for getting in their faces for liking subway (I’m that guy). It hasn’t earned me any favors because it seems that 99.999% of people thoroughly enjoy Subway. If it’s not due to price sensitive consumers, excellent marketing, or Jared’s fat pants, then the only logical explanation is there’s crack in the subs. It’s definitely not winning people’s business through taste.

    Thanks for the comment. Hope to see you back here.

  • Jas

    After reading through the comments and laughing my ass off at how serious John’s “apples to oranges” reply was, I would just like to say that I agree you you. Subway sucks and the humor behind this post was spot on. Nice.

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  • Winni

    hi there, i  really want to have a talk with u about sanwich marketing,  am working in subway now, and i would like to gain more markting idea to get an improve, is that ok for you?  waiting for ur reply~~ cheers 

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  • Only Sane Person Here

    Food is more expensive and tastes the same as Subway. And is extremely unhealthy with pretty much every single thing they spit out. Clearly Quiznos is “better” for those who “have taste buds”.

    Poor schmuck.

  • Only Sane Person Here

    Or, you know, it IS because of taste. But I wouldn’t expect someone that likes dreck to know what a good sub tastes like. And you actually get I people’s faces for liking Subway? Do you also listen to obscure bands and then call them sell outs when more than ten people know who they are? Judging by that douche face, I’d say yes.

  • Only Sane Person Here

    Please tell me you don’t actually believe this. Humanity can’t be this dumb.

  • Thanks for taking the time to write in, Sane. I hope you’re staying dry under that bridge.


  • Julie Hartleib

    I would like the scoop