Subway’s CMO Serves Up Insights on the Return of the $5 Footlong

The promotion—and its famous jingle, now sung by Charlie Puth—are back

subway sandwiches
Subway reintroduced the $5 Footlong in response to fan demand. Illustration: Amira Lin; Source: Subway
Headshot of Richard Collings

Key insight:

By reintroducing the $5 Footlong sandwich promotion, Subway is hoping to turn back the clock to a time in the chain’s history that is remembered for its sales growth.

Franchisees such as Aly Eatery, an operator of Subway restaurants in Nevada that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, are certainly in need of the boost.

The limited-time offering, which began this week, is accompanied by a new ad campaign and a jingle familiar to longtime fans, though updated to appeal to a younger audience as well.

“The jingle brings a sense of nostalgia to many who hear it, and in times like these we could all use something that takes us back to the good ol’ days,” said Carrie Walsh, Subway’s CMO, in an email to Adweek.

Subway tapped hit-making artist Charlie Puth to update the vintage earworm.

“We love the classic jingle, but we also wanted to switch it up to appeal to today’s Subway fans,” Walsh said. “We are excited to have partnered with Grammy-nominated artist—and Subway fan—Charlie Puth, who put his own spin on the jingle, possibly making it even more memorable,” she added.

While it may seem like decades have passed since Subway last aired the promotion, in truth, the company only retired it in 2018. A combination of ingredients led to the $5 Footlong’s demise, including a lawsuit over the sandwich not quite measuring up to its advertised length and inflation that ate into the item’s profitability.

But the reintroduction of the footlong during a difficult time both socially and economically may prove to be the boost Subway needs.

And history is on its side: The $5 Footlong’s roots go back to the mid-2000s when a franchisee tried to reinvigorate weekend sales, and was first launched nationally in 2008 at the beginning of the financial crisis. The bargain was so appealing to cost-conscious consumers that in the following year, it generated billions in sales. By 2010, the $5 Footlong was a $4 billion brand.

During the course of its 10-year run, the likes of Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps, a fan of the meatball and jalapeno sub, would serve as the promotion’s spokesmen.

In its waning days in early 2018, there was a brief attempt to put a new spin on the footlong by lowering the price by a penny to $4.99 and promoting it via a series of ads by The Martin Agency, including one that parodied The Price Is Right.

The promotion, though, had become stale and increasingly less profitable over the years, as fast-casual rivals stole eaters on the hunt for more flavorful, fresher and healthier offerings.

To revive the $5 Footlong, Subway tapped Dentsumcgarrybowen to develop the national advertising campaign, which features Puth. The ads are set to run on all major TV networks, Walsh noted.

“We want everyone singing (and dancing) along, so you will see the jingle pop up on Instagram, Facebook and maybe even a new social platform for the brand,” she added.

As to why Subway dusted off the promotion, it was largely in response to fan demand, she said.

“This campaign is a bit different for us, because we are using this as an opportunity to respond directly to fans who have tweeted over the years begging for the return of the $5 Footlong. We’ve received hundreds of thousands of tweets over the last few years about the $5 Footlong as fans have campaigned for it to come back,” Walsh explained.

In fact, the ads feature tweets from actual Subway fans, she said. The company wanted to respond to fan tweets, which it does with the help of Puth in the commercials.

“By doing so, we hope our guests feel heard and appreciated,” Walsh said. “Without them, there would be no $5 Footlong to celebrate.”

@RichCollings Richard Collings is a retail reporter at Adweek.