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The Story Subway Doesn't Want You to Know

The Story Subway Doesn't Want You to Know

August 28, 2009

7 Ingredients to Spotting a Story

1. Simple - Eat Subway, lose weight.
2. Surprising - Fast food is healthy.
3. Demonstrates a Big Zig - Lost 240 pounds and shows the 'fat pants' as proof.
4. Believable - Jared Fogel is a real guy who shares his experience.
5. Emotional - Jared tells his story of how he struggled with being overweight.
6. Promise - You too can do it.
7. Story - Jared overcame the odds and triumphed!

How to spot a story that makes your prospects hungry for more

Everyone knows the story of Jared Fogel who lost weight while eating Subway sandwiches every day.

Well, get ready. Because I'm going to tell you the story the execs at Subway don't want you to know and how Jared almost didn't become a national symbol for Subway and the entire weight loss movement.

You see, for years Subway had been promoting its '7 under 6' campaign. Don't what it means? Hmmm. That's your first clue that this wasn't a very good campaign. Since it's not very intuitive, it needs some explanation. '7 under 6' refers to 7 different meals served at Subway with 6 grams of fat or less. Okay, that seems to make sense ' once someone it explains it!

One guy started eating those meals (the 6-inch turkey club for lunch and the foot-long veggie sub for dinner) every day while in college in Bloomington, Indiana. In 3 months, he lost nearly 100 pounds and went from 425 pounds to 330. For the next several months, he lost one pound a day for the next several months simply eating the Subway sandwich every day, walking to classes and taking the steps instead of the elevators. He lost a total of 240 pounds.

His roommate, who wrote for the Indiana Daily Student newspaper, spotted the story. He wrote about his roommate's dramatic weight loss and how he selected his classes based on the seats he could fit into before he lost the weight. He even credited Subway with saving his life!

Men's Health magazine saw the story in the student newspaper and ran an article too. Subway franchise owner Bob Ocwieja spotted the story too and thought they could use it to help promote Subway and took the idea to Richard Coad, the creative director at Subway's ad agency. Coad didn't think much of it at the time and sent an intern to Bloomington to find the guy on the 'Subway diet.'

You guessed it, they found Jared and confirmed the stories they heard. But get this! When Coad and Ocwiega approached the new marketing director at Subway about promoting Jared's story, he said, 'I've seen that before. Fast foods don't do healthy; we have to focus on taste.' The attorneys for Subway also raised concerns about medical liability issues, blah, blah, blah and they would need to add disclaimers saying you must see your doctor first.

Besides, they already had their '7 under 6' ad that was doing just fine. Clue #2: Good enough ALWAYS gets in the way of great.

So Coad and his business partner created a local ad for free promoting Jared's story. 'This is Jared,' the ad said as he held up his pants with a 60-inch waist. 'He used to weigh 425 pounds ' we're not saying this is for everyone, check with your doctor first.' The next day, Subway got calls from USA Today, ABC News, Fox News and Oprah all wanting to interview Jared!

While Jared was in college figuring out which desks he could fit into, sales at Subway in 1999 were flat. In 2000, after the ads began running, sales increased 18% and in 2001 sales increased 16%.

Why? Jared's story is simple: Eat Subway meals and lose weight. It's surprising: Lose weight while still eating fast food. And it demonstrates a Big Zig (while others are zagging through the market, Subway zigged) by showing Jared's huge pants that he used to wear. That image is so powerful, just about anyone can picture it and immediately relate it to the story of Jared and Subway.
It's also believable. A real guy, with real pants losing weight. It has the great emotional appeal of a person overcoming a challenge millions of people wrestle with every day.

Compare that promotion with the '7 under 6' campaign. It's not simple, it has to be explained and it's not very surprising. The only advantage it has is that it's believable. But it doesn't include a big promise that will grab prospects' attention and it doesn't leave you with an image you can remember.

Nor is it emotional. Some of the best emotional stories are those that include an underdog and overcoming adversity. One of the best underdog stories of all-time is the story of the 1980 US hockey team defeating the Russians and winning the Olympic Gold Medal. What a story that was!