CMO Q&A: Tony Pace, Subway

Subway CMO Tony Pace talks to Alexandra Bruell about social media, the 2012 Summer Olympics, and the brand's relationship with Jared Fogle

Subway CMO Tony Pace discusses social media, the 2012 Summer Olympics, and the brand's relationship with Jared Fogle.

Tell me about how your sports marketing has evolved.
For the longest time we've had plenty of equity in Jared Fogle and the fact that he lost all that weight. We wanted to take that to another level and really add dimensions to that. About four years ago, we started pairing Jared with athletes. We found doing so worked on many levels.   

It's been said that over the past year or so, interest in Jared was kind of waning. Is there a reason you decided to continue working with him, most recently on the New York Marathon effort?
Because we've used him in a variety of forms and fashions over the years, Jared has become very strongly linked with Subway, so it's been incumbent upon us from a marketing standpoint to find ways to evolve his story, his relationship with us. Looking back, we had this, frankly, crazy idea of getting Jared to run the marathon. I know he thought it was crazy the first time he heard it. We're always looking for the next thing, and really the marathon was the next thing for Jared, undertaking a training regimen to get to New York City to be able to enter and complete the marathon.  

What was the ROI from using him? Good consumer feedback? Sales?
The Jared marathon was a year-long program and we used it for social media purposes, PR purposes, and we also made it a key element of one of our marketing [campaigns] for Windows 7 of this year. All of the metrics on that were very positive in terms of sales and consumer attitudes in terms of awareness and perception of Jared.

How has your marketing mix evolved? Are you using more social media and PR than in the past?
PR was not really seen as a consumer marketing tool when I arrived here. I had PR experience years ago, but my belief was it was a great tool. Now, everything we do has some social media extension to it – and that's real and not just a marketing artifice.
    We did training with the folks at St.Vincent Sports Performance [for the marathon], but also with the famous fans. There was obviously a communications element to that, but beyond that, there was legitimate sharing of tips and secrets in terms of how [our famous fans] keep focused on training both in the short and long term. We've developed relationships with our famous fans, as did Jared, so there's a natural bonding there. People are willing to use social media to communicate about people and brands they're involved with.

Why are you continuing with traditional marketing vehicles in print and on TV?
Because they work. At the end of the day, we believe in layered marketing built off of common brand positioning that allows you to speak differently through different communications vehicles. To me, you need both. For a brand of our size – we've got 23,000 restaurants in the US, 33,000 around the world – in the US alone, we need approximately 30,000 customers a week to drive our business. To get that kind of weekly business, you need to be in a lot of places and have tremendous reach.

What are some of the challenges and changes in your brand association with health?
If you come in and say I want a low-fat sub, you can do that, you can pick and point.  And if someone wants a meatball sub, here's a meatball sub and here's what the content is. So we're a little different than most food and restaurant workers in that we're really up-front about that. The health portion of our menu is a very broad, substantial part of our menu. It's not just one thing that we talk about. It's a real piece.

Has your target audience shifted at all?
Just like the other quick service restaurant folks, we like young males because they have a high frequency. We do a great job with high school-aged kids. We're always trying to reach them. We're doing a pretty good job, and I think we can be even better, with moms, but they're always on our radar.

What are you doing for the 2012 Summer Games?
When we were talking with Michael Phelps after the Beijing Olympics, everyone else was talking about using the spotlight on him because of his tremendous success there. We said that's a good thing for us, but we're really more about being with you while you're training. So right now, Michael has been in many of our communications since we started working with him and he'll continue to be. And the focus is on his preparation versus the event itself.

How does your marketing investment for these upcoming Games compare to the investment for past Olympics?
We haven't locked it in yet, so it's a little premature, but my guess is it will be a slightly different configuration, given all the evolution in media and social media. To us, it's not the dollar amount. It's the efficiency. But there's always a dollar amount. Even social media costs money. You can be pretty astute in that space. The large dollar amount doesn't necessarily win in that space.

Are you noticing changes in consumer feedback or behavior that then influence your approach?
The question is what's the economy going to be like over the next couple of years. We've had great success with $5 foot-longs, but that's only part of what we offer. We have to make sure that above and beyond that we're offering things that are in tune with what consumers are doing. I saw a piece about how consumers were trading up.  

What's next? The golden sub?
I don't know if it'll be golden, but maybe a little more high-end.

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