Subway Returns to a Pre-Jared Era of Innocence in First BBDO Campaign

First spot travels back to 1965

You might not have known this, but Subway practically invented fresh food.

BBDO has unveiled its first campaign for the sandwich chain. The post-Jared Fogle approach features a wholesome, return-to-roots message to help mark Subway's 50th anniversary.

We flash back to 1965 in this debut ad, when founders Fred Deluca—played by his son Jonathan—and Peter Buck opened their first restaurant together. Their focus: Freshness, bucking a zeitgeist of TV dinners and gimmicky restaurant themes to pioneer a now-fashionable aversion to overprocessed foods. 

The ad, whose sight gags include a man laughing (then scowling) after a cowboy does lasso tricks over his burger-chain booth, is more entertaining than BBDO's first tactical Subway work around National Sandwich Day. And it thankfully doesn't feature Tony Hale tormenting hungry, overworked office drones.

"We were fresh before it was fresh to be fresh," says the voiceover, shamelessly employing the kind of smug circular statement that will cause viewers' eyes to roll back in their heads. By cramming 50 years of pseudo-history and vague language into 30 seconds of marketing, it unavoidably stinks of reductive, nostalgic rah rah nonsense. Bubbling under the surface is the sense that Subway is pointing and laughing at the early competition—apparently Sonic and Roy Rogers—to distract from its own recent skeletons. 

Rose-colored narrative aside, it's a visually rich spot and a reasonable if predictable strategy: The brand is pining for a more innocent time before its image was tainted by spokesman Fogle's incarceration for crimes related to sex with minors and child pornography. Honesty, simplicity and good old American family values are what Subway is really about, the ad suggests—without quite saying it outright.

That's not an original message, or even a gripping one. But it's an understandable and important point to get across. All the baloney about freshness is also a way to stay on brand after heavy investment in messaging for its previous tagline, "Eat Fresh"—whether or not that particular claim is true, or the man who represented it is awful.