A Big Fat Lesson In Perseverance

Maybe you remember the original Jared Fogel ad from Subway. This spot didn’t win any major awards. And you probably aspire to much more creative work. But the fact that you remember Jared shows that the campaign (now, almost a decade old) was crazy successful. And there are several important lessons from the Jared campaign that are worth noting:

  • Subway’s marketing director wasn’t impressed with Jared’s story. He thought fast foods couldn’t do healthy. He wanted to do a campaign based on taste.
  • The health campaign Subway did want to run was called “7 Under 6,” which talked about the seven sandwiches they had that were under 6 grams of fat. (No matter what you think of Jared, you’ve got to admit he’s more interesting than “7 Under 6.”)
  • The Jared spot made Subway’s lawyers very nervous. They were afraid it would appear like a medical claim. In their lawyer wisdom, they advised against running it.
  • Even though the national Subway office vetoed the Jared campaign, some franchisees showed some interest in running it using regional ad money.
  • With no national funding to cover production, Hal Riney’s president, Barry Krause decided to make the spots for free. Production would come out of the agency’s pocket.
  • The original spot ran on January 1, 2000.
  • Within three days, Hal Riney had received calls from USA Today, ABC, Fox News and Oprah.
  • A few days later, Subway’s national office called, asking if the ads could be aired nationally.
  • That year, sales jumped 18%, plus another 16% after that.
  • The campaign sold a ton of sandwiches. Jared’s since become part of pop culture (He’s been featured on South Park, no less.) Arguably, this story has made Subway the brand it is today.

So what does this mean for you? I’m not saying the Jared spot is worthy of a One Show Gold. But it shows that even wildly successful campaigns meet opposition. Don’t let the road blocks rile you. Don’t hate the client or the account team or creative director or partner who says “no.” One “no” doesn’t always mean the work is dead if you’re willing to fight for the work you believe in.

(The details of the Subway story can be found in the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.)

4 thoughts on “A Big Fat Lesson In Perseverance

  1. Would you remember the campaign if Subway didn’t run the hell out of it for so long? Do you remember taglines and slogans for brands from back in the day? Of course you do. Back then if brands found something that worked or was smart they stuck with it, nowadays it seems like campaigns get three months and then the company wants something completely new.

    Back to subway and Jared, I heard the only reason he ate subway was because he lived upstairs from one and it was the closet place for his then fat ass to get food. And now with the popularity of the five dollar foot long are we going to have to endure that campaign for another decade too? If so shoot me now.

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  2. That ad campaign always did and still makes me wonder about the background of its production. In school, we are learning that every campaign is meticulously planned out. There is an enormous amount of research that goes on before a campaign takes place. So I have to wonder how Hal Riney researched the effect of having a previously obese man acknowledge Subway for his weight loss. Were there auditions for the part? If so, how many people wanted to be “the Jared” of Subway? And if someone else got the part, would it have been as effective if his name was something like William or Richard? Or did Jared have some connection to someone planning the campaign and he or she thought “Hey, my friend Jared just dropped a ton of weight. How about we use him and say he thanks Subway for his miraculous weight loss?”
    It doesn’t surprise me that lawyers were nervous about the potential medical claim they could be making. From the best of knowledge, I can’t remember Jared ever stating that exercise helped him lose the weight. In reality, I highly doubt that a man as obese as Jared could lose more than 100 pounds by simply eating sandwiches every day. But somehow, Hal Riney felt that Americans would buy it; and they did.

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  3. “Made to Stick” says that a friend of Jared’s wrote about his diet for the college newspaper. That was picked up as a blurb by “Men’s Health” (though Jared was never named). When a Subway franchisee heard about it, he took the initiative to contact Hal Riney. A lot of factors in there that had nothing to do with the creative team.

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