Obviously, it’s not a good time to be Subway. Jared Fogle, who has been a key part of the Subway brand over the past 15 years, pled guilty to charges of child pornography and sexual conduct with a minor. He’ll spend no less than five years in jail and pay $1.4 million in restitution to victims.
The good news for Subway — and I shudder to use the term “good news” in relation to this story — is that the brand made the right first step by immediately suspending their relationship with Fogle as soon as the FBI raided his home. Subway then made a quick subsequent step, immediately severing their relationship with Fogle when it became clear he would be charged with these crimes.
Moving forward, if I were crafting the marketing strategy for Subway, I would recommend that they proceed cautiously.
I would not recommend Subway eschew their usual heavy broadcast media plan as the football season approaches. If sales are already down, shutting down broadcast media will only amplify that. What I would do is vastly increase my budget for pre-testing of the messages that Subway might run. Subway cannot afford to appear tone-deaf in any of their marketing right now. Spending the time and money to test consumer perceptions and sentiment related to their marketing messages should be a key focus to help dodge any potential crises before they occur. If crises do occur, Subway should already be working with a PR firm who has a crisis plan in place, designed to help them continue to respond quickly and effectively to consumers who will certainly turn a more watchful eye toward Subway over the next several weeks.
Additionally, Subway should consider if now is the right time to make over their social responsibility commitments. If you visit the social responsibility section of the Subway website, you can see that Subway has several commitments that feel very on-brand for them related to nutrition, the environment and sustainability. Given the 15 years that they’ve spent working with Fogle, it could make a lot of sense for Subway to pick a renowned charity focused on helping victims of child abuse — particularly sexual abuse — and partner with them, too.
My inclination, if Subway were to build a new partnership with a charity like this, would be to spend virtually no paid or earned media touting it. Update the social responsibility page on the website and call it a day. Above all else, Subway cannot appear to leverage the awful crimes Fogle has pled guilty to for positive PR.
It won’t be an easy road, but if Subway follows these key steps while continuing to act swiftly and decisively, they can begin to put behind them the 15 years when they tied their brand to a man who is now required to register as a sex offender.