The revelations about spokesman Jared Fogle come at a bad time for Subway, which had already been struggling with sales.
NEW YORK — Subway benefited hugely from Jared Fogle’s weight-loss story. Now the sandwich chain needs to figure out how to prevent him from overshadowing its future.
The association of the company’s name with crimes that evoke such universal disgust comes at a rough time for Subway: The company is facing intense competition and concerns that it’s overgrown, and the company’s co-founder and chief executive is being treated for cancer.
“For a while, when you see a Subway ad, you’re going to think about that child-pornography charge,” said Allen Adamson of the brand-consulting firm Landor Associates.
Companies like having famous representatives because it’s can make people feel that they could be more like those individuals, which in the case of Fogle meant losing weight and being able to keep it off. But such relationships can backfire when celebrities run into trouble.
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The charges against Fogle also are tough because he wasn’t just a one-time endorser; he is famous solely for dropping more than 200 pounds with his “Subway diet.”
According to the official story, Fogle once weighed 425 pounds and was unable to walk across the campus of Indiana University. After switching to a diet that included two Subway sandwiches a day and increasing his exercise, Fogle lost more than half his body weight in less than a year.
He began appearing in Subway commercials in 2000, after the story of his dramatic weight loss appeared in Men’s Health magazine, and soon found himself at the center of one of the nation’s most successful and enduring ad campaigns.
Fogle became crucial to Subway’s marketing. According to AdAge, sales fell 10 percent after ads featuring him briefly stopped airing in 2005. He was parodied by “Saturday Night Live” and “South Park.” He started his foundation to fight childhood obesity.
The “before and after” images of Fogle at his highest weight and after his Subway diet were a “very positive association” for the brand, Ira Kalb, assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, told the Los Angeles Times last month.
Subway leaned on Fogle’s story for more than 15 years as it more than doubled its locations in the U.S. The pitchman appeared in Subway TV ads as recently as last month, on the day his home was raided by state and federal investigators, according to iSpot.tv, which measures national TV ads. That ad recapped how Fogle lost weight, and the latest chapter in his life as a family man with two children.
It was one of three Subway ads featuring Fogle up to this year, out of 40 others, according to iSpot.tv.
chain because she doesn’t think the company is to blame for Fogle’s actions.
The revelations about Fogle come at a bad time for
Subway is privately held and doesn’t publicly report its financial results. But average annual sales at U.S. Subway locations fell 3 percent last year, according to industry tracker Technomic. That was the first decline since 2006.
The company is dealing with changing attitudes about food, with industry executives saying people are paying closer attention to things such as ingredients, not just calories or fat. To keep pace, Subway said in June it would remove artificial ingredients from its food, following similar decisions by others.
Overextension might be part of the problem, too. Subway says it has about 27,000 locations in the U.S., nearly twice as many locations as McDonald’s, the next biggest chain.
Don Sniegowski, editor of Blue Maumau, a site for franchisees, said it’s difficult to predict how business might be affected by the Fogle scandal, but he thinks sales will be hurt slightly. “You think of Subway, and you think of Jared chasing around little girls. It’s going to mitigate people’s decision to go there,” he said.
The chain has already started trying to erase Fogle from its history. After Fogle’s house was raided July 7, the company scrubbed mentions of him from its website.
Shortly after Wednesday’s announcement, Subway said on Twitter that it considered Fogle’s actions “inexcusable” and that they “do not represent our brand’s values.” The restaurant chain said Tuesday it had already formally ended its relationship with Fogle.