Sink a sub gaming experience signals Subway's renewed brand push

Marketing leader says latest virtual gaming experience

Sinking iconic Subway sub sandwiches is the name of the literal game in the QSR brand’s new gaming experience aimed at increasing customer engagement with a broader market and breathing fresh life into the brand.

Subway this week debuted the new ‘Sink a Sub’ virtual gaming experience, which sees players sinking its iconic Subway sandwich within an online at-sea battleground. The game was created in partnership with Wunderman Thompson and is being supported by throughout November by a prize giveaway that includes an Isuzu M-UX, $10,000 in cash, bikes and Subway food.

Every customer purchasing a Subway product will be given a QR code to get into the gaming experience and invited them to sink a sub on a digital gameboard. Every participant will receive a prize, such as Subway cookies or drinks.

“With Sink a Sub, we’re doing things in a fresher way and making everyone a winner,” said Subway head of marketing, Rodica Titeica.

Until now, Subway has relied on its fresh food to tell the story, Titeica told CMO. “We haven’t created uniquely-Subway experiences to connect consumers with our brand. As a heritage brand, our biggest marketing challenges in the Australian market are top of mind awareness and brand relevance,” she said.  

“Our strategy was to create emotional connections through new experiences to expand our reach to QSR consumers who haven’t eaten with Subway recently and increase the loyalty of occasional brand consumers. We believe a game, with an instant-win component, allows us to both drive sales and build lasting loyalty with consumers.”

In addition to commercial objectives around increasing sales, conversion and subscriptions, Subway is looking to improve core brand metrics. “Our entire strategy was focused on improving the top of mind awareness of Subway and driving brand salience with consumers,” Titeica continued.

Also complementing the latest game is a wider global brand transformation effort. “We’ve made big changes at Subway, with a loyalty program, online ordering, a snacks menu and more,” Titeica said. “This campaign was as much about putting subs into the hands of Aussies who haven’t tried us for a while, as it was about giving our loyal guests a great experience.” 

Wunderman Thompson experience design director, Frank Martelli, said his team was initially challenged to create a retail campaign that would drive a 25 per cent increase in restaurant guest count over one month

“We knew we needed an experience that would give customers a fresh and new way to engage with the brand,” he said. “Subway has always celebrated subs as the most iconic asset, so when the team first presented the idea of Sink a Sub, we knew immediately that it was the right experience to not only hit the target, but also hero their signature product in a uniquely ownable way.”  

The resulting game was designed to be simple and easy to use while immersing the user in the Subway brand in a positive way. The ambition is also to get customers sharing and coming back in again and again.  

Martelli said the game was built using human-centric design frameworks, such as the Octalysis Gamification Framework, which meant testing the experience with customers along the way.

“This allowed us to create a game where the user is empowered to win every time they play, takes ownership of their individual experience, drives affinity for the Subway brand, and promotes repeat purchase,” he explained.

Such a major national brand campaign required months of planning to bring it to life, so work unsurprisingly started before Covid-19 struck.

“The strategy was always to create an engaging consumer experience through a digital platform, but the importance of this was amplified by the pandemic,” Titeica commented. “One of the strengths of the Sink a Sub concept is that it taps into consumers’ desire to feel connected to the world around them and helps tackle the social isolation that Covid-19 has brought.

“The uncertainty of the pandemic only drove our commitment to creating a COVID-proof campaign – our guests have the chance to play and win regardless of whether they order in-restaurant or via delivery.”

Media support

Supporting the game is a multi-channel media campaign encompassing online, in-store, TV, out-of-home and radio throughout November. Ikon client service director Brisbane, Kate Lippett, said the focus is to drive rapid effective reach by using a combination of high impact channels, as well as channels optimised based on data to target high potential players.

Knowing the US election would be occurring the week of the launch, Ikon secured takeovers across Australia and New Zealand’s top reaching platforms - Youtube, Nine.com.au, MSN.com and Stuff.co.nz - on Election Day. “High impact mobile placement across a wide range of news outlets for the month is included to further capture the lean-in moment in history,” she said.  

Both first- and third-party data has also played a role in propensity targeting and to encourage repeat play occasions, Lippett said.  

Sink a Sub might be one of Subway’s first forays into gamification but Titeica said it won’t be the last.    

“This is just one of the tactics in our larger brand evolution, which was all about redesigning the way we connect with consumers across all areas of the business – and becoming more relevant to their daily lives through everything from a modern menu offering to fresher restaurants and online ordering,” she added.    

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.

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