Subway last month rolled out the largest menu update in its history, which was accompanied by an updated visual identity, store remodels, a revamp of its digital ordering and the introduction of direct delivery. To promote the "Eat Fresh Refresh" brand initiative, the QSR launched a star-studded campaign featuring four of the country's top athletes — Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Steph Curry and Megan Rapinoe — in what it billed as a "never-ending" creative campaign.
"This was a huge undertaking for Subway and we wanted to underpin the creative with some of the biggest star power that we could, but really, they were the supporting cast here — the food was the hero," CMO Carrie Walsh said. "But the athletes we selected were chosen specifically because they embody that idea of the campaign, which is in order to be fresh, you refresh, so we picked some of the greatest athletes of all time who have constantly been upping their games to stay relevant."
Relevance will be key as the brand works to rebuild itself into a dominant restaurant player. Challenges from competitors and the closing of restaurants have dropped the chain's share of the limited-service sandwich market from 41% in 2013 to 28% in 2020, per Technomic data cited by Restaurant Business. The brand refresh and its accompanying campaign, also titled "Eat Fresh Refresh," is a major move by Subway to reverse that trend.
Below, Walsh, who joined Subway as CMO in October 2019 after stints at Pizza Hut and PepsiCo, among other companies, explains how the brand experiments with new channels, collaborates with agency partners and manages the challenges of marketing during an ongoing pandemic.
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
MARKETING DIVE: What is the core idea behind the campaign and the brand refresh?
CARRIE WALSH: The "Eat Fresh Refresh" was born out of the largest menu changes that we made in the company's history. When we launched on July 13, we had more than 20 changes across our menu across all of our U.S. restaurants, in addition to digital updates, and we wanted to develop a campaign that really brought to life the scale of the changes that we were making to deliver a better guest experience to all of our consumers. It's really a celebration of these big changes, the beginning of an ongoing journey of transformation for the brand to build a better Subway.
How do the marketing creative and digital updates tie back into the refresh?
WALSH: The creative idea was that it wasn't about any one individual change that we were making, but rather, it was about the sum of all of the different changes that added up to a better sandwich experience for our guests. The net takeaway isn't about just the change in the turkey, or just the change in the bread, but rather big changes that result in a big difference to the sandwiches we deliver.
It all comes to life in the in-store experience, so we did a ton of work with our franchisees and our team members to really train them on the new food to ensure we deliver great guest experiences. We're focused on continuing to up our game there as well. It really is not about any individual touch point — not just the food, not just the digital, not just the in-store — but how it all works together in the guest experience journey.
What does a "never-ending" creative approach look like?
WALSH: We tried to ensure that this truly was not leaving any stone unturned in terms of surrounding the consumer with our message. We tried to think outside of the box. Obviously, we have traditional television ads, but we launched with 11 pieces of unique television creative and each one of them cuts off, nodding to the fact that there's more to come.
We brought the message in hundreds of pieces of digital creative, social creative, in-store and print. We actually even tried some new things: we tried gas station TV, we bought the waiting page on Roku. We just tried to surprise guests with all of the different ways that we were surrounding them and their day with all of the different pieces of our message.
What's been exciting to see as we look at the real-time ad metrics that we monitor is that consumers are getting the bigger message about a lot of changes at Subway, but probably more importantly, that surround-sound strategy [is resonating]. We're seeing that the more creative elements people are exposed to, the stronger their perceptions of some of those key messages that we're delivering.
How did you collaborate with agency partners on this campaign?
WALSH: Carat and McgarryBowen, which are part of the Dentsu network, worked together, because this was as much about a media strategy as it was a creative strategy. With all of these discrete pieces of creative across all of our channels, how do we sequence them? There was as much of a lift on how do we, from a media standpoint, pace and sequence all the messages, in addition to all of the creative development. Carat combined with McgarryBowen as the lead creative agency, and then we also have Proof Advertising, United Entertainment Group and Jack Morton working together to try to make sure all the pieces were getting in front of consumers at different moments in time.
As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, with the spread of the delta variant and the return of mask mandates in some localities, how do you continue marketing to and communicating with consumers?
WALSH: What the last year and a half has taught us is we've got to be very agile in our approach, understand what's happening in the lives of our consumers, and react to that. I commend our operators for being flexible and making changes to the experience, given what was happening in the world with the pandemic.
Over the last year, we rolled out curbside and we just rolled out Subway Deliver on our own platforms. We've continued to improve our digital platforms and we've seen tremendous growth as consumer behavior, in light of the pandemic, has moved to those spaces. Our franchisees have done a great job of being flexible and agile, and responding to what's happening in the world, and we'll continue to do that.
How will the brand initiative and campaign evolve going forward?
WALSH: Sometimes, when you roll out a refresh, people think that's the end. For Subway, it really is just the beginning of our transformation journey and the "Eat Fresh Refresh" will continue as we continue to make improvements to our guest experience for years to come.