How Much Will Jared Fogel Hurt Subway?
You think you know a guy who’s been selling you sandwiches for over a decade, but the recent news of Jared Fogel’s child pornography and sex acts with minors charges sure blew that theory out of the water. Fogel came to fame as a spokesperson for Subway and is even known as “The Subway Guy.” Now he’s a study on how much the face of a brand can help and harm the bottom line.
There’s little doubt in the industry the former Subway pitchman, with his story of losing over 200 pounds by eating Subway sandwiches twice a day, helped propel the sandwich chain onto the national stage. According to Chris Isidore and Cristina Alesci of CNN Money, Subway now has the most locations of any food retailer, and Fogel has been the focus of their marketing efforts for 16 years.
With a close and long-standing tie in the public eye to Fogel, Subway is sure to feel the pitch, but to what degree is anybody’s guess. As reported by the LA Times, Subway saw a sales increase of 20 percent after the airing of Fogel’s first commercial in 2000. But when Fogel’s contract ended in 2005 and ads stopped airing until he re-signed, same-store sales saw a drop of 10 percent.
The sandwich chain was quick to take action in hopes of minimizing damage, suspending its relationship with the spokesman back in July when the news of the police raid on his home emerged. They publicly cut ties once it became clear he was going to plead guilty. Subway told franchisees to remove all mentions and images of Fogel from their advertising and marketing items, and the company’s website was scrubbed clean of any references to him. Whether their immediate distancing will help in the long run is unknown, but Subway’s fast action was the best choice given the circumstances.
Speculation on the long-term damage to the Subway brand runs both ways. USC Marshall School of Business Professor Ira Kalb believes the harm is short-term, as Subway is not the responsible party and the public’s memory is usually pretty fleeting. But other industry watchers, such as Allen Adamson of Landor Associates, a brand consultation firm, note that people will now associate Subway with child pornography, a very disturbing subject that is likely to linger in their minds. However Subway decides to move forward, it’s clear the stigma of The Subway Guy will haunt them for some time to come.