Since the media is already bandying about possible presidential candidates for 2016, here’s another one to consider: Jared Fogle. You know, the Subway Guy. Of course you do. Jared—er, Fogle—has been appearing in Subway’s advertising for 15 years now, and the fact that it feels odd to refer to him on second reference as “Fogle” (like you would in an article about anyone else) rather than “Jared” kinda proves the point: He’s just an all-around, first-name-basis, likeable kind of guy.
Don’t believe it? As AdAge reports, Subway is now “the most effective advertising brand in the restaurant industry,” and even corporate execs at America’s sub shop give Jared a lion’s share of the credit.
Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics, a restaurant consulting company, asked nearly 80,000 people to rate the ads of various restaurants based on how relatable and memorable they were, in addition to whether the ads made them hungry for the product advertised. Subway’s score on the latter was a relatively low 69.4 percent, but when it comes to relatability and memorability, the chain scored far higher—75.1 percent and 78.5 percent, respectively.
You have to imagine that a 75 percent relatability score is something Mitt Romney could only have ever dreamed of. Then again, you also have to imagine that President Fogle’s solution to every crisis, from a nuclear Iran to hostile budget negotiations, would be to hold up a pair of size 58 jeans and declare, “If I could lose 245 pounds by eating Subway for a year, surely we can [fill in the blank].”
Before Fogle, Subway was just an upstart in the American fast-food game, slinging its six-inch subs in the shadow of the burger giants. When the quirky story of an Indiana University undergrad who’d gone from a morbidly obese sophomore who chose his classes based on whether the seating would accommodate his 425-pound frame to a happier, healthier 180-pound junior all by just eating Subway for a year hit the desks of Subway’s marketing team, they more or less shrugged at first. After all, Americans didn’t care whether their fast food was healthy—or did they?
In 1998, before Subway signed Fogle up as its spokesman, industry experts estimate the company’s U.S. sales were about $3.1 billion (as a privately held company, Subway does not disclose such figures). Today, some 300 Jared commercials later, its likely that figure has almost quadrupled to more than $11.5 billion, USA Today reports, and Subway now has more locations worldwide than McDonald's.
If Subway continues to enjoy its “healthy halo,” that’s in no small part due to Fogle, whose bland everyman character and an awkwardness in front of the camera that remains discernable even after all these years of practice combine to suggest a kind of trustworthiness you just can’t fake. He doesn't seem like someone who's now worth an estimated $15 million, does he?
But even if Fogle is, by all accounts, just about as genuine as you can get, it’s worth thinking about whether Subway is really as healthy as it’s cracked up to be. Earlier this year, Subway’s chief marketing officer, Tony Pace, told USA Today that he credits Fogle’s turn as the company spokesman with upward of a third to half of the chain’s growth over the past decade and a half. The rest of the credit, ironically, he gives to Subway’s wildly successful (if recently embarrassing) $5 foot-long campaign.
But look at the numbers: A Spicy Italian foot-long (one of October’s featured $5 deals) is 960 calories with 18 grams of saturated fat. A Big Mac, on the other hand, is just 550 calories with 10 grams of saturated fat. True, I got Subway's nutrition info off its own website, but it’s sort of hidden: Subway has this sly little trick of posting nutritional information for its 6-inch sandwiches, meaning at the very least, you have to double whatever number you’re seeing to get the total for a foot-long.
Not only that, but with all those add-ons and condiments spread out before you, it’s easy to ramp up the calorie count of your foot-long even more: Switch from the default 9-Grain Wheat bread to Italian Herb and Cheese, then add some provolone and light mayo, and you’ve got a sandwich with a whopping 1240 calories and 28 grams of saturated fat.
No doubt Jared wouldn’t exactly approved, but then again, it’s not like his cardboard cutout standing by the door is going to stop you.