if a brand has something to say, say it

Why do brands that have a strong point of differentiation not position themselves on it??  Quizno’s serves a case in point.

The sub sandwich chain has just launched a new campaign to promote its new line of Toasty Torpedos.

In the ads a raspy-voiced toaster asks the employee to “put it in me” (the sandwich, that is.)  The double entendre comes off as goofy, but the stupid joke is only a small part of why the campaign is completely off-target.

The bigger issue is that the ad doesn’t say what should be said about the brand — that is, toasting makes its subs taste better than Subway‘s.  I fully admit to being biased because I do indeed believe Quizno’s products are better than Subway’s, but don’t take my word for it.

Brand Tags, Noah Brier‘s nifty web site which catalogs the top-of-mind responses of people who have been  shown a brand’s logo, confirms that Quizno’s has a better and distinct positioning relative to its 3,000  lb. gorilla competitor.  The top 10 word associations with Quizno’s are:

  • toasted

Compare the list to Subway’s top 10 brand associations:

  • delicious

I’m baffled by Quizno’s decision not to leverage its strongest differentiator — “toasted.”  Many brands long for a clear, easy-to-understand reason-to-believe why their product or service is different/better than competitors’.  Especially in the commoditized price-oriented QSR industry, companies struggle against the pull of deals and promotions to develop a brand position that’s grounded in a sustainable competitive advantage.  Quizno’s has a powerful point of differentiation in “toasted” (Subway may offer toasting, but they’re not known for it — it doesn’t inform the brand’s position) — and yet, their brand communications don’t leverage it.

Sure the ad features a talking toaster and the new product line’s moniker includes the word “Toasted,” but that’s not enough — the core idea of the campaign should focus on it and its benefit (better taste, that is.)  Furthermore, it seems the chain has dropped its subline “mmm…TOASTY.”

This isn’t the first time the brand has gotten off track — remember the sponge monkeys campaign?  or the ads about the man raised by wolves?  Understandably the company’s ads must be bold enough to compensate for its huge share of voice deficit vs. Subway — TNS Media Intelligence estimates Subway’s 2008 ad spending at $369MM, while Quizno’s logged in at about a fourth of that at $90MM.

But it seems in its effort to breakthrough and be memorable, Quizno’s has allowed gimmicks and the pursuit of creativity to overshadow the key brand message.  Burger King has fallen into this trap from time to time.  That chain enjoys two strong brand differentiators, Have It Your Way and flamebroiling — both of which make their products taste better.  In the past when BK took its eye off the ball and moved away from promoting their differentiation, the chain’s performance suffered.  Today the brand enjoys enough brand equity to sustain their position even when their communications meander (for now).

Unfortunately Quizno’s is not in a position to wander.  The company is in the midst of a turnaround — after struggling with franchisee profitability and closing 300 restaurants last year, founder Rick Schaden has returned to the helm and is helping get the business back on track.  I hope the organization’s turnaround efforts will include a re-assessment of their brand position and advertising strategy.

With such great differentiation, I hope they don’t leave their brand half-baked — or half-toasted, as the case may be.

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  • Good post. Cash flow will always be king in my court. But, the queen, and the true power, lies in differentiation. Your piece illustrates reinforces why it’s so important, and that sometimes a simple focus on the fundamentals might be better than trying to flex your creative muscles.

  • Thanks for the post. This ad has already stirred a lot of heated discussion, one which often ends with the comment that “if we are talking about it, it must be good”. Luckily you look at this in a more strategic way and I like how you’ve pulled in the brand tags, very smart. This is what consumers say about the brand, which is something that they can leverage and can differentiate themselves on and thus own. Short-term this spot might create some buzz and maybe additional sales, long-term they are not creating any brand capital and sustainable results.
    Kristin Ament also wrote a piece about it on Unbound Edition, regarding how this ad together with Carl Jr.’s latest commercial has gone too far embracing the fact that sex sells: http://tinyurl.com/quiznoad
    Carl Jr.’s is a good example of a more strategic initiative, although one can argue about the execution.

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