How Subway Sandwiches Devoured TV’s Shows, Scripts
In real life, people chow down on everything from McDonald’s to Chinese food. So why does it feel like everyone on TV has a yen for Subway sandwiches?
Over the past six years or so, Subway has chomped its way into dialogue, plotlines and sets on everything from NBC’s now-defunct “Chuck” and CBS’ “Hawaii Five-0” to ABC’s “Suburgatory.” Its logos, cups and sandwiches have also made their way to ABC’s “The Middle” and NBC’s “Community,” among other boob-tube favorites. And the appearances are anything but demure.
During the first season of the musically-themed ABC serial “Nashville,” Subway figured into a plotline to build a new stadium in town, festooned with Subway’s logo, of course. On the aforementioned CBS adventure drama, the prominence of Subway in one episode was so distracting that viewers took to the Web to complain. Subway’s ad tie-ins with programming have grown so strong in recent years that the chain’s financial commitment to “Chuck” was instrumental in keeping the ratings-challenged spy show on the air for a season or two more.
“We are kind of looking to be an invited guest with a speaking role,” said Tony Pace, chief marketing officer of the Subway Franchisees Advertising Fund Trust, the chain’s consumer-marketing arm. “The classic product placement model is not where we are. Just having our logo is nice, but it’s not enough. We’d rather have some message communicated.”
Small wonder that TV characters are tossing off Subway references at the drop of a few sponsorship dollars. Yet by booking such appearances, Subway is demonstrating just how quickly the TV networks have abandoned long-standing rules about weaving ad messages into their programs. Gone are policies that allowed ad logos on-screen during sports events or a product placement in a popular reality show, but barred the door to sitcoms and dramas. Now there’s a sense embedding ad messages in programs can help the networks keep their hands on advertisers’ cash. Subway spent approximately $327.4 million on TV advertising in 2008, according to Kantar Media, compared with around $445.9 million in 2012.
CBS in 2004 had already put blue-chip sponsors in “Survivor,” which debuted in 2000, but was still debating over whether to open prime real-estate –comedies and dramas- to techniques that would do more than let a certain kind of vehicle appear on-screen. Now the network puts General Motors’ Chevrolet in “Hawaii Five-0,” and has even allowed the advertiser to be the exclusive auto sponsor of theshow.