4 Things Brands Can Learn From Subway's Jared Fogle Scandal
Jared Fogle, the man that taught America it was possible to lose more than 200 pounds eating subway sandwiches, has been charged with possessing child pornography and is reportedly planning to plead guilty.
Fogle was also the leading spokesperson for Subway for 15 years and contributed to nearly half of Subway's growth.
As the news of Fogle's charges became a reality, Subway quickly cut ties with their former spokesperson.
Here are 4 things brands can learn from Subway's recent crisis.
The truth will come to the light
For 15 years, Fogle's charitable contributions and fight against childhood obesity provided no warning of his charges to date. Humans are highly unpredictable and humans make mistakes. For this reason, brands must take measures to insure their spokesperson(s) is as wholesome in private as they appear in public and, in a case where they are not, find out before the media does.
Subway, or any brand hiring a spokesperson, should have considered employing an investigative service to at least conduct a surface check to determine any potential irregularities. Obviously, brands should not wait for a crisis to be attached to the brand, should be the first to know and the first to end any relationship that might lead to damages to the brand.
Act fast and leave little speculation
Subway, to their credit, did act quickly after Fogle's allegations went mainstream and issued a simple statement stating, "We are very concerned and will be monitoring the situation closely. We don't have any more details at this point." It is important that brands do their best to control how the public perceives them before the public has a chance to conjure up its own conclusions.
Subway's statement was also close-ended, leaving little room for speculation or hearsay - a tactic brands should take note of. Shortly after, Subway decided to end their relationship with Fogle and issued another simple and closed-ended statement, "We no longer have a relationship with Jared and have no further comment." Such swift action allowed Subway to mitigate the damages and left little room for further questioning and probing.
Although in recent days allegations have been made that some Subway management did, in fact have some knowledge of Fogle's situation and, according to one former Subway employees, failed to come forward. That situation is still playing itself out in the news.
Social media can be your friend
While the public used Twitter to vent their frustrations and confusion, Subway used a series of tweets to broadcast their position before, during, and after their decision to terminate their relationship with Fogle. Not shying away from social media allowed Subway to keep the masses updated with facts as they unfolded and remain a trustworthy and transparent brand.
The latest allegation about Jared Fogle, if true, is appalling. As previously stated, we have suspended our relationship with Jared.— SUBWAY® (@SUBWAY) August 1, 2015
We no longer have a relationship with Jared and have no further comment.— SUBWAY® (@SUBWAY) August 18, 2015
Jared Fogle's actions are inexcusable and do not represent our brand's values. We had already ended our relationship with Jared.— SUBWAY® (@SUBWAY) August 19, 2015
Diversify, when possible
Subway invested heavily into one person as the face of their company for 15 years. This can be quite risky for brands as consumer perspectives changes over time and can later prove to be disastrous if that person comes under scrutiny as Fogle has. Consequently, brands such as Geico have decided to simply create their ideal spokesperson. Geico's Gecko, for example, is a fictional character that can take on multiple personalities and therefore resonate with multiple audiences at the brand's leisure.
In addition, because the fictional Geico is not prone to common human error, Geico takes on much less risk. In a 15-year time span, Subway had ample time - especially if some inside the organization had inside knowledge about Fogle -- and opportunity to transition to other, safer spokesperson.
Not every brand can succeed employing the fictional spokesperson strategy but it is worth considering. Fictional characters are, of course, immune to human frailty.
Despite the downfall of Subway's most recognized spokesperson, Subway appears not to have experienced any noticeable backlash from consumers - apart from a pre-Fogle scandal downward spiral in sales -- and will likely emerge relatively unscathed. While brands can't plan for the sudden downfall of a spokesperson, actively monitoring their spokespeople, responding quickly, and diversifying is a great way to mitigate losses.
This guest article was written by Keran Smith, co-founder of social media marketing agency, Lyfe Marketing.