Why Subway Can’t Gain Traction on Its Viral Video Campaign

It never ceases to amaze me just how bad some corporate marketing campaigns can be. It isn’t so much that the concept is weak, but the execution just doesn’t do a good idea justice.

Subway is one of the largest and most recognized restaurant chains currently operating in the US. Sandwiches made at Subway are often endorsed by athletes and the infamous “Subway diet” has been attributed to the weight loss of many individuals since Jarrod’s story became a matter of public attention.

Dear ToddJared S. Fogle remains one of the most recognizable spokesmen in advertising history. His story inspired many sandwich lovers to make healthier choices and pay more attention to the nutritional content found on their favorite restaurant’s menu. It was a successful advertising campaign, and it remains one of the more memorable in history.

More recently, Subway has adopted a more humorous approach to its advertising. If you frequently watch network television or enjoy your favorite shows on Hulu, you’ve probably seen a few of these ads. It’s a stereotypical office environment where one employee, Todd, is caught in a jealous triangle with two attractive coworkers, each more interested in his sandwiches than him.

It’s a fun campaign, but when Subway attempted to duplicate a move made in recent years by Old Spice, it missed the mark entirely.

Subway’s official YouTube channel is host to many of its advertisements over the years, but more recently to a series of videos intended to go viral called Dear Todd.

The series follows Todd, the socially awkward middle-aged office worker with the voice of a 10-year-old boy (a theme with which all of the adults in the series comply) as he answers fan mail in hopes of helping people with their relationship woes. It looks and feels a lot like the Old Spice videos that replied to tweets and comments by viewers almost as quickly as they came in. Unlike the Old Spice campaign, these videos are rarely exceeding 3,000 views a piece.

It’s not the kind of numbers a corporate campaign should be looking for on its official channel, despite that channel having a subscriber count below 2,500. Why is Subway failing to gain traction from these videos? The answers are pretty clear.

  • Each video has comments and ratings turned off.
  • Subway has done little to promote awareness for the campaign.
  • The videos feign audience interaction, and don’t answer real questions from viewers.
  • The replies are canned and often fall flat.
  • Every video starts the exact same way. There’s no hook to bring a viewer in.
  • Subway’s products are all over the videos. By contrast, Old Spice was rarely mentioned in its campaign.
  • Responses almost always push product.

If you want to capture an audience’s attention and hold it there for what is obviously a marketing campaign by a corporation, you have to break down that barrier between your company and the audience. Allow comments, and respond to actual questions by actual viewers. Mention the user name of the person to whom you’re responding. That will promote more positive comments and make your videos infinitely more appealing.

People don’t want to share commercials unless they are new, funny, and/or interesting. The office worker with the voice of a child was funny at first, but you can’t rely on the gimmick to carry your campaign past the first few days. You have to adapt and give the audience what it wants.

Pushing product is fine in a subtle way. These types of videos should be shared with the connection already having been made between the personality and the brand prior to viewing the commercial. Pushing product when viewers already know what product is associated with the video doesn’t make it something anyone would be inclined to share.

Advertising is great, but when you step into the social world of YouTube in an attempt to feign interaction through a Q&A series, at least have the foresight to involve your audience.

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Chris has consistently expressed his convictions and visions outright, supplying practical information to targeted audiences: media agencies, business owners, technology consumers, software and hardware professionals, et al. He remains a passionate personality in the tech community-at-large. He's a geek.