Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Chicken Check-Up at Subway

I will confess that I probably eat Subway about once a week.  I go there for the same reasons that I think most people do - it's an easy meal that won't do chernobyl-like damage to my insides.

However, despite maintaining regular visits to Subway for more than a decade, I've never ordered a sandwich with chicken.  There's a really good reason for this.  It's simply the sheer sight of chicken breasts themselves.  The product display is so bad it's infamous; chicken breasts looking cold, pale and rock solid, just haphazardly tossed in the bin without any regard that this item is supposed to end up in the mouth of someone standing over it. 

So it was to much shock and disbelief that I stumbled across recent advertisements from Subway that describe its new chicken as "a breakthrough" and "our best chicken yet."  The "best chicken yet" spot provides viewers with a heavy dose of empty superlatives like "chicken you can feel good about," "better tasting/just is better" and "premium cut" before they get to the stuff that consumers can actually prove, "all white meat, no artificial flavors or preservatives."

While consumers won't ever mistake Subway chickens to with those of the Portlandia variety, it's a major branding mistake to drive people to the stores on a position of quality when they will see fossilized chicken breasts once they get there.  By this point, everyone has been to Chipotle, so we all know what grilled chicken is supposed to look like.  They will only hurt themselves by trying to join the (some)food with integrity movement but under-delivering on this new market standard and/or in the practical reality department.

Even if Subway were able to deliver in the reality department, a "new and improved" position is still a risky play.  It's taunting consumers to ask the question, "well, what the hell were you serving us all these years?"

The right move would be to fix what consumers will see at Subway when there isn't a television screen between them and their chicken.  Only then can and should the story of new and improved actually begin.

 As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic and any other interesting marketing-related musings

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