Subway marketing chief shares her merchandising strategy tips

QSR brand debuts a Footlong Floating sub for the pool, its second merchandising play for Summer following the debut of swimmers with Budgy Smugglers

Consumer merchandise that’s produced well and is both functionally and visually appealing is a solid asset for a brand that harnesses it, says Subway Australia and New Zealand head of marketing, Rodica Titeica.  

The QSR debuted its second significant foray into merchandise last week, launching a 3-metre-long pool-toy shaped in the image of its footlong sub sandwich. The decision to go into pool accessories follows the brand’s decision to partner up with Australian swimwear company, Budgy Smugglers, on its own cossies range in December.  

Available in Footlong Meatball or Six-Inch Teriyaki Chicken designs, 2500 pairs of the two types of tongue-in-cheek smugglers were made available to consumers. Their launch was also supported by a TikTok campaign featuring influencers showcasing their Subway Budgy Smugglers such as Will Biggs, Christine Abdir, Joey Wooders, StarMCG and Jakeb.  

The latest torpedo-shaped floating sub is being made available from 1 February 2022. The pool-toy also takes its cues from Subway’s Spring 2021 campaign, which saw the brand build a 9m floating Footlong Sub Boat to sail in Queenstown in New Zealand then Australia, gaining significant engagement across social media.  

Results for the stunt included a 10 per cent in sales versus 2019 and +10 per cent versus the five weeks prior to the campaign in Queensland; and a 4 per cent lift in sales versus 2019 in South Australia, along with +4 per cent versus the five weeks prior to the campaign. In both instances, numbers of customers into restaurants were also 9 per cent higher during the campaign versus the five weeks prior to its launch.

Titeica told CMO Subway has long produced merchandise to reward and thank some of its most loyal customers. More recently, this included custom skateboards for influencers and ambassadors in support of its ‘Eat fresh’ brand campaign.  

“That was so well received, we began thinking of other opportunities for merchandising,” she said. “Budgy Smugglers and Floating Footlongs are our first meaningful foray into consumer merchandise and it’s already a big hit. I have previously had experience with branded merchandise and know that when it’s produced well, is both functional and visually appealing, it can be a real asset for a brand.”

Subway’s marketing has always been oriented around trying to make people feel good and have some fun while making fresher choices, Titeica continued.  Another example of this is its 'Sink a sub' virtual gamification campaign.

Credit: Subway

“Our focus as a brand right now is to reignite the love that people have for Subway and we’re achieving that through better relevance in consumer’s daily lives,” she said. “We are always looking to make people smile. After another emotional rollercoaster of a year peppered with lockdowns and border closures, we want to help make people’s Summer just a little bit more enjoyable with family and friends.”  

With Subway and Summer typically going hand-in-hand and the post-Christmas period representing the company’s busiest time of year, tapping into a swimming theme was a no-brainer for the team.

“With Australia having the most pools per capita in the world, everybody knows that Aussies love a swim. So, we thought it a natural fit for Subway to be part of the action poolside with a little bit of cheeky fun thrown in,” Titeica said.

It’s not surprising to hear Titeica’s broader aim for the brand in 2022 is to reinvigorate engagement with Subway. She pointed to consumer research which indicated many Aussies will eat Subway at some point throughout the year.

“Many people have positive, nostalgic feelings about the brand – from their favourite sub made exactly the way they want, to getting a massive Footlong Sub, to our freshly baked cookies,” she said. “Our goal this year is to stand out, be noticed and remind people why they loved Subway in the first place. We truly believe people need our Eat Fresh attitude in 2022 now more than ever.” 

Short and long-term measures of success include increasing repeat purchasing and driving additional visits over a longer time frame.

“The ‘Free Floating Footlong’ campaign invites people into our restaurants to experience the brand again and see the improvements and changes we’ve made, like click & collect, delivery or even a new ingredient like the popular Spicy Mayo,” Titeica said. “We expect our Floating Footlongs will be hot property and anticipate they will sell out quickly. But our true measure of success will be whether those guests had a great time and continue to come back in subsequent months.”

As to advice on how other marketers should think about merchandising as a tactic, Titeica compared their resonance to limited time only offers, a staple of the QSR industry.

“Good quality merchandise that complements the brand can be a strong extension to a marketing strategy,” she said. “In my experience, success with merchandise or a gift with purchase is to find something that’s a natural fit with the brand, ensure it’s of great quality, focus on why you are doing it strategically, but also make it fun.

“Australians have shown that they are willing to invite their favourite brands into their lives – our job is to make it easy and not take things too seriously.”

Titeica claimed she’s at the tip of the iceberg in terms of getting people excited about the Subway brand again.  

“There are so many ways to extend a brand into culture and we’ll definitely be looking for more opportunities to do this type of thing throughout 2022,” she added.     

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