Subway Defies Odds, Becomes Positive Brand Trend

SubwayOn Monday — the same day that Americans learned processed meat may cause cancer — Subway earned a top Google Trends spot for its news that the chain will phase out antibiotics in meat. Even on Twitter, the brand earned praise from consumers who paid far less attention to this from CNN: “Former Subway pitchman Jared Fogle pays $1 million to victims.”

This antibiotic-free positive brand trend comes in an era when marketing mistakes make for cringeworthy headlines. Brands caught up in the marketing snafus include the Patriots, Urban Outfitters and U.S. Airways (now American Airlines). Asked to tell Target Marketing the strategy behind the positive marketing, Subway didn’t immediately return a request for comment on Monday.

“Beginning in March 2016, Subway customers across the U.S. will able to order meals made with chicken raised without antibiotics,” reads Subway’s Oct. 20 press release about the change (opens as a PDF). “Turkey raised without antibiotics will be introduced in 2016, with a completed transition expected within two to three years, and pork and beef raised without antibiotics will follow within six years after that.”

Subway tweeted out a similar sentiment on that same day, but consumers continued to comment about the subject on Monday and share links to news articles about the announcement. Sentiment against the move says farmers should be able to treat sick animals with antibiotics.

“Today’s consumer is ever more mindful of what they are eating, and we’ve been making changes to address what they are looking for,” said Dennis Clabby, EVP of Subway’s Independent Purchasing Cooperative (IPC), in the Subway announcement. “A change like this will take some time, particularly since the supply of beef raised without antibiotics in the U.S. Is extremely limited and cattle take significantly longer to raise. But we are working diligently with our suppliers to make it happen.

“Given the size and scope of the Subway brand, this commitment is the largest of its kind in the restaurant industry,” added Clabby of Subway’s more than 27,000 restaurants. “We hope that this commitment will encourage other companies in our industry to follow our lead, and that, together, this will drive suppliers to move faster to make these important changes for consumers.”

Absent the comments from Subway, here are “7 Steps to Create a Viral Marketing Campaign” from a January 2015 article in Small Business Trends:

  • Make It Visual. Links to tweeted Subway articles often included a photo of a sub being built. Others added the brand logo. Subway itself went low-tech: The brand tweet had no visual and the announcement had an elaborate infographic included in a press release PDF.
  • Plan the Message. Be very clear. Subway’s message is “U.S. restaurants will only serve animal proteins that have never been treated with antibiotics.”
  • Work the Emotions. Many consumers are being more picky about their food, Subway notes. Some even fear antibiotics. “Play on their fears, hopes, dreams or sense of humor, and your campaign will be far more likely to go viral,” advises the Small Business Trends article.
  • Know Your Audience. Subway diners may be more health-conscious than other fast food consumers. “What is it they want from you?” asks Small Business Trends. “Are they hoping for some super-secret information? Are they looking to be entertained? [Do they want] to appear informed and clever? If you can identify these triggers and work them into your content, it will be far more effective.”
  • Keep the Campaign Simple. This refers back to Tip 2.
  • Launch the Campaign Strategically. At what time will the audience be paying attention?
  • Don’t Try to Force It. “Launch your campaign at a strategic time, remind your audience about it casually, and then see what happens,” reads the Small Business Trends article.

What other positive brand stories are trending?

Please respond in the comments section below.


Heather Fletcher is senior content editor with Target Marketing.
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