Unlike many people, I can remember Subway restaurants in the pre-Jared Fogle days. I first visited a Subway shop in the summer of 1988 in Evanston, Illinois, and it seemed like a revolution in fast food to me. In some ways, that’s exactly what it was.
You mean I can pick my own type of bread? and meat? Veggies, too? And sauce on the top of it all? Wow! That’s exactly what being in a Subway felt like back then.
I imagine it felt like that for Jared Fogle, too. He found that he liked the sandwiches, and he used them–and a lot of walking–to tell a compelling story about the inner determination that we all have, if we can only unlock it and harness it effectively. Those huge jeans that he never tired of holding up were his ticket–and Subway’s–to the explosive growth that has occurred over the past two decades.
Subway now has more than 44,000 restaurants all over the world. It’s safe to say that more than half of these only existed in the Jared Fogle days of the franchise. He was the face of the franchise, and quite literally its embodiment, too. Eat Subway and you, too, can get to a slimmer body size. And who doesn’t want that?
Jared is the opposite of Ronald McDonald, because he is a real-life person. His claim to fame was that he had eaten Subway and lost weight. That’s all. Athletes sometimes had endorsement deals with Subway–Apollo Ohno comes to mind on that front–but Jared didn’t have anything other than his backstory to offer. But that was enough, it seemed. Subway was Jared and Jared was Subway. And they both sold us all a lot of sandwiches as a result.
But real life people are human, after all. And when the freaky side of Jared Fogle was revealed, and then confirmed by his guilty plea to possession of child pornography, it created a major problem–perhaps even an existential one–for Subway and its owners, Doctor’s Associates. Can their brand, which depended on Jared’s smiling visage and uplifting personal tale, survive the things that Jared did on his own time? Should it survive?
Doctor’s Associates is a privately-held company headquartered in Milford, Connecticut. As a result, there’s been no precipitous crash in the company’s stock price, as there would be if this happened to McDonalds or Subway. But there’s also no spreading of the pain around between millions of individual and institutional stockholders, either. The pain is being felt by the people who own those 44,000 franchises around the world, and pay Subway for the right to use their name and sell their products.
The decline in sales at these locations is going to be very real. How could it be otherwise, when their corporate image is going to prison for at least five years? The food won’t taste any different today than it did last year or ten years ago, but everyone who steps through the door will have to ask themselves if they want to continue giving their money to a business that was at least partially created by a pedophile.
Subway has had a few weeks’ warning to scrub any and all images of Jared from their stores, and I’m sure they have done exactly that. But the benefit of the doubt, that perhaps this was all a misunderstanding of some sort, is gone, as of today. He did many terrible things, and his Subway-generated wealth will be used partially to repay his victims, and partially to pay lawyers who were able to work out a better plea deal than the average Subway customer could get in a similar situation. So Subway benefited Jared, one final time. But he now leaves an awful lot of franchise owners holding the bag, and facing a very uncertain future.
Jared will become forgotten, or the answer to trivia questions, or the target (because saying butt just felt wrong) of many cruel jokes. He brought all of that on himself, and I will shed no tears for him. But he will also serve as an object lesson for any company that expects to ride a spokesperson of any kind to bigger and better things. When you tie your wagon to just one horse, as Subway did for twenty years with Jared Fogle, you better be very sure that it’s a good one.