Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Dr. Ruth, Dr. Phil, Mr. Jared

I’m a bit worried that Jared Fogel is stalking me. He used to be that nice-seeming fella who lost a ton of weight—some 245 lbs., or more than one of me—by eating at Subway every day. For that reason alone, you had to love the guy. It was like finding someone who proved Jack Daniels and tira misu cured cancer and promoted world peace. Losing weight, by eating fast food? And who got the Nobel that year? Put him on a mountain, and we’d be there offering hit CDs and small crafts as gifts (sacrificing a goat is so wrong; consider the clean-up).

But the folks at Subway are an onion slice short of being creepy with their new promotion. Sign up on a special website and Jared will call you with a pre-recorded pep-talk about keeping your New Year’s weight-loss resolution. And, according to the Associated Press’ press-release-beating coverage of the new program, this is merely a test for possible further interactions with the guy.

Which, of course, gives rise to all sorts of possibilities:

“Hello, you’ve reached Subway’s corporate headquarters. Press one if you’re waivering in a moral dilemma. Press two if you’re in danger of cheating on your spouse. Press three if you’re thinking of taking the mortgage money and heading to Tijuana…”

I can see it now: Standing in some captain-of-industry’s office, awaiting the start of a hugely important, nerve-jangling interview, and my cellphone rings: “Hey, buddy, it’s Jared. Just be yourself. And try a six-inch turkey sub, hold the mayo. Only six grams of fat!”

The possibilities are endless: Jared’s Oscar picks. Jared on tax preparation. Jared on what exit to take off the expressway.

What happened to selling subs?

In fairness, we have to point out the brilliance of what Subway is doing. TV commercials are as yesterday as Nehru jackets (explanation for younger readers: Amazingly dorky coats that were in vogue for about 15 minutes during the ‘60s). The objective today is interactive marketing, where consumers are prompted to take an action, thereby fostering a bond with a brand. Subway has that part nailed, more admirably in my estimation than such ground-breaking prior efforts as Burger King’s iPod download program (fans were given cameras to make videos somehow involving Burger King, which were then posted online for downloading. One effort consisted of a customer going through a McDonald’s drive-thru while wearing a mask of Burger King’s royal mascot. It didn’t make the cut at either Cannes or Sundance.) Four stars to Subway for that effort.

But we were never fans of the logo’d shrimp de-veiner mindset, where you extend a marketing come-on or concept to every possible aspect of daily life to keep a brand top-of-mind and relevant. You risk a sort of pitch fatigue; the marketer making the incessant appeal becomes an annoyance that’s resented, not a relished brand choice. Overexposure is much more of a danger today because it can happen so much more readily.

There should be limits to how far Jared should be used to sell fast-food sandwiches. Is this new compaign over that line? Probably not. But what’s next?

I’d love to answer, but the phone is ringing. It might be Jared, with a heads-up about his Hollywood Squares appearance.

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