Subway Crisis – The Biggest Threat to Your Brand is Denial

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Subway had notice; Russell Taylor, head of Fogle’s charity, The Jared Foundation, was arrested on charges of possessing and producing child pornography in April of this year. An immediate plan was required in response; while it is understandable that Subway would want to respect its long-term relationship with Fogle, any hint of a scandal, especially one of this highly offensive and illegal nature, required immediate attention and action in April.

“Subway is making a huge mistake..”

“New details in Jared from Subway child porn raid…”

“Crisis of the week: Subway Served with a Pitchman Problem…”

If you own or run a business, these are not the types of headlines you want to see when conducting a web search on your Brand.

Last week, sandwich powerhouse, Subway, jumped into headlines as their spokesperson, Jared Fogle, had his house raided by the FBI. The search came two months after Russell Taylor, executive director of the Fogle Foundation, was arrested on child pornography charges. According to sources linked to the FBI, the raid of Fogle’s house was in connection with a child porn case. Reports indicate Fogle is cooperating with authorities.subwayjared

Who is Jared Fogle?

Fogle, more commonly referred to as ‘Jared,’ has been a spokesperson for Subway for nearly 15 years. In April 1999, Fogle caught the attention of the media after his significant weight loss on the “subway diet.” The company tested an ad campaign featuring Fogle in January 2000. The campaign noted the subway diet, paired with walking, helped him gain a healthy lifestyle while losing inches.

After success of the first campaign, Fogle acted as a brand ambassador and made personal appearances for the company. From 2000-2013, he had filmed more than 300 commercials for the company. Growth of sales more than tripled during 1999-2011.

A section of the Subway website once detailed Fogle’s weight loss journey. The page has since been removed.

Following the raid, Fogle’s attorney, Ron Elberger released a statement.

“Jared has been cooperating, and continues to cooperate, with law enforcement in their investigation of unspecified charges and looks forward to its conclusion,” Elberger said. “He has not been detained, arrested or charged with any crime or offense.”

Subway’s Response

In a statement regarding the recent raid, a Subway spokesperson stated: “We are shocked about the news and believe it is related to a prior investigation of a former Jared Foundation employee. We are very concerned and will be monitoring the situation closely. We don’t have any more details at this point.”

As depicted by the below tweet, Subway severed all ties with Fogle immediately following the raid. The company said the decision was mutual by both parties. Navigating through the Subway website yields no signs of Fogle’s presence; not even on the latest news/press release page. According to the website, it is as if the raid never happened.

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Social Media is Lightening Fast

As expected, social media users took to various platforms to express how they felt about the long-time spokesperson. A simple search of the hashtag #Jared or #Subway yielded thousands of results;

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subway tweet 2

In a recent Firestorm webinar, Karen Masullo, Firestorm Chief Intelligence Officer, shared social media metrics of the Subway/Jared crisis. The below screenshot was taken over a 10-minute time frame. During those minutes, there was the potential for 8.5 million impressions. The keywords in the conversation were: raid, FBI and child porn. According to Karen, “These are never words we want associated with our brand.”

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Did Subway Make the Right Decision?

Subway – or any other business for that matter – cannot afford to be associated in any way with child pornography or child endangerment charges; it is that simple. They must protect their brand and image – even if that means severing ties with a key spokesperson.

The real question is “Was there a plan?”

When you plan only for marketing initiatives – and only for their success, a company is left open to huge vulnerabilities.

According to various industry reports, the upheaval halted Subway’s latest marketing campaign—one that portrays Fogle as a family man keeping the weight off with a consistent diet of Subway sandwiches. In an animated TV spot released this year, a narrated cartoon shows a sweater-clad Fogle as a new father taking his wife, Katie McLaughlin, and their two young kids—the couple have a three-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter—to a nearby Subway store. The commercial exemplifies Subway’s dependence on Fogle as its sole ambassador—a pop culture relic of the early 2000s who helped build Subway’s reputation as a health-conscious fast-food alternative. Now, as the company struggles to stay relevant among such emerging competitors as Chipotle Mexican Grill and Jimmy John’s, Fogle and his new image were poised to help revive the world’s biggest fast-food chain.

The company had a plan for hopeful success, but none for the failure of that specific risk; if your key spokesperson is just that, your key spokesperson – the face of your company – someone at some point has to ask the question “What if he fails?”

Moreover, Subway did have notice; Russell Taylor, head of Fogle’s charity, The Jared Foundation, was arrested on charges of possessing and producing child pornography in April of this year. April! An immediate plan was required in response; while it is understandable that Subway would want to respect its long-term relationship with Fogle, any hint of a scandal, especially one of this highly offensive and illegal nature, required immediate attention and action in April.

Further due diligence would have revealed that the secretary of state’s office in Indiana, where the Jared Foundation was registered in 2004 as a nonprofit corporation, said that it had administratively dissolved the foundation in February 2012.

Valerie Kroeger, a spokesman for the state agency, said that action was taken after the foundation failed to pay annual $5 reporting fees the two previous years despite being notified multiple times by the office, meaning they’re no longer registered with the state to do business.

With only minutes (if not seconds) to respond today, the plan must be in place far ahead of time. This requires crisis simulation, practice and planning. It also requires careful monitoring of more than one or two channels, but of the whole of social and traditional media.

This was not related to one, isolated associate of Subway – their entire brand was resting on the success or failure of this marketing initiative and individual.

This was an absolute failure to plan.

At Firestorm, our extensive crisis management background and experiences provide the expertise needed to help organizations:

  • Predict vulnerabilities
  • Develop plans to prevent or mitigate those vulnerabilities
  • Train and test on plans developed

Initiate a no-fee call with Firestorm. Your team can use this time to ask Firestorm any questions that are on your mind and, if nothing else, the call will validate that you are taking all the necessary steps to manage the aftermath of a crisis. If you decide after the call that there are ways Firestorm can be of assistance, we will determine next steps together. 

Crises don’t wait. Neither should you.

 

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