Jul 11, 2012 • By

How a five dollar sandwich boosted a brand

Probably everyone who hears the three-second “Five Dollar Footlong” jingle identifies it with the Subway brand.

But how do you sell sandwiches with that?

The jingle doesn’t have the same impact as taking a regular guy like Jared Fogle and showing how he shed pounds on a steady diet of Subway sandwiches.

What’s more, jingles are mainly an artifact of the past.

Yet Subway’s jingle of barely one note gets stuck in our heads. And five bucks for a sandwich gets our attention. These are simple ideas with a little genius behind them.

In the case of Subway’s Five Dollar Footlong campaign, that genius is Tony Pace, the company’s chief marketing officer, a man who knows a subtlety when he meets one.

General Mills routinely brings in industry leaders to share insights into their marketing campaigns, and Pace was in Minneapolis today to talk about Subway’s success.

Pace says there’s a big distinction between Subway’s “Five Dollar Footlong” campaign and what it could have been, which is “A Footlong for Five Dollars.”

“The first is a brand. The second is a price,” Pace says.

Subway’s been riding high for nearly five years with this campaign. As if the jingle – and Pace was told that an original jingle was passé – isn’t simple enough, there’s the two-hand gesture.

People in Subway commercials hold their hands a foot apart.

“Depending on what you hear, 15 to 30 percent of the population can’t read,” Pace says. But the hand gesture helps show how big the five dollar sandwiches are, and many consumers today would associate the gesture with the brand.

“To do simple things, you have to put a lot of thought into them,” Pace says.

Subway made its mark when it introduced Fogle as a spokesman, and although he is still used in marketing campaigns, Pace said that consumers came to already know the message when they saw Fogle.

And that message wasn’t focused on cost.

Back in March of 2008, the economy was moseying south just about the time a Subway franchisee told Pace that he’d like to try selling sandwiches at five bucks a pop to increase sales.

So Pace launched a nationwide campaign geared to run for four weeks. A month later, franchisees were overrun, sales exploded, inventory dropped and repurchase popped. Rather than devise an exit strategy for Five Dollar Footlong, Pace created an evolution strategy.

In the nearly five years since, the Five Dollar Footlong campaign has put Subway atop the BrandIndex Buzz Rankings of 1,100 brands for the past two years.

The evolution strategy has reached the point that Jimmy Fallon, a self-professed fan of the brand, has blended Subway into comedy bits on his late night talk show.

Whether history plops Subway’s Five Dollar Footlong jingle alongside McDonald’s “You Deserve a Break Today,” or the hand gesture alongside Pittsburgh Steelers’ “Mean” Joe Greene tossing his football jersey to a Pepsi-totin’ fan remains to be seen.

But don’t count Pace out.

NPD/Crest, which tracks consumer use of restaurants, has deemed the alarmingly simple Five Dollar Footlong campaign as the most significant marketing event in the last 20 years.