It's been a week since news broke that Jared Fogle was caught up in a child-porn investigation and just days since BrandIndex's semiannual survey of America's best-perceived brands revealed that Subway is among America's favorites. The sandwich chain immediately distanced itself from its erstwhile spokesman and has weathered the PR nightmare as well as possible. But how can it maintain its stellar brand perception amid the scandal?
According to public-relations and marketing experts, Subway should leverage its roster of endorsers and stay focused on its brand identity rather than on its relationship with Fogle.
"Neither Subway's brand image nor their store traffic should be seriously affected given how quickly and decisively they responded," said Tim Maleeny, chief strategy officer at Havas Worldwide and managing partner of Havas Worldwide in New York. "Looking ahead, Subway should stay true to their brand values and remember that what you do as a brand matters much more than what you say."
Maleeny suggested Subway work on making its brand bigger than any single spokesman or spokeswoman. "A brand this big—Subway has more stores than McDonald's—can tell its story through many voices to expand their populist image," said Maleeny. "A great brand is bigger than any of us, because it represents all of us."
Matt Rizzetta, CEO of PR agency N6A, agrees. "As the investigation continues, Subway would be wise to leverage its diverse spokesperson roster and celebrity affiliations to distance themselves from Jared," he said. "Between Apolo Ohno, Ryan Howard, Michael Strahan and others, Subway has aligned its brand with a wide range of recognizable personalities through the years that have avoided back-page headlines. In a situation like this, Subway should leverage the depth and diversity of their brand-ambassador roster."
It helps, too, that actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie took a family trip to a Subway store Tuesday. That the couple, known for their humanitarian work and who use their celebrity to promote social causes, would stop by the eatery just a week after the scandal shows the brand still has support.
"Organic press like the Brad and Angelina drive-by is the best press to have, especially when unplanned and unexpected," said Aaron Kwittken, global CEO of communications agency Kwittken. "Subway now needs to terminate—not just suspend—its relationship with Fogle. There is no more time to waste, because due process does not apply to trials of reputation."
Maleeny agreed. "Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie taking their kids to Subway eclipsed the Jared story in daily news feeds and became an implicit endorsement of the chain as a healthy family destination," he said. "That wasn't an ad; it just happened. No payment or movie placement was involved. Subway is big enough that they should consider celebrating instead of selling, making greater use of real stories of customer loyalty—not necessarily famous customers, just drawing on their populist fan base—in their marketing efforts. Social media can do a lot of heavy lifting for the brand."