After nearly 15 years of building a huge brand asset, Subway’s brand ambassador is going to jail.
In 2000, Jared Fogle, then a college student, lost 245 pounds by eating Subway sandwiches. He became a paid spokesperson and celebrity for the restaurant group. He made appearances, they printed his face and story everywhere, Jared was the consistent face of the brand.
On July 7th 2015, the FBI raided Jared’s house in connection to allegations of child pornography. In April of this year, Russell Taylor, the executive director of Fogle’s Jared Foundation, was arrested after investigators found more than 400 illicit videos in his Indianapolis home.
The Indystar quoted me when the Jerad Fogle story broke. Read it here.
On August 19th, Fogle accepted a guilty plea deal for possessing child pornography and committing sex acts with a minor and will soon be headed to the big house.
Subway issued a statement that Jared’s behavior does not reflect the company’s values and they have severed all ties with him.
This event is a damaging and expensive blow to the Subway brand. While time will make it better, the “halo effect” will not soon be forgotten. The halo effect, a term coined by psychologist Edward Thorndike, means the overall impression of a brand or person based on feelings and thoughts about that others have. In this case, if Subway is in the headlines for Jared’s crimes, people could have a negative impression of the company based on his actions.
I weighed in on Reuter’s news story that ran today on Subway’s brand crisis. Read the brand story here.
As an entrepreneur or business leader, you may not hire a celebrity to be the pitchman for your brand. But, a brand crisis like this can happen to any one. An employee could do something crazy. A supplier’s bad judgment could impact your business. You could screw up. No business is immune to a crisis.
Every business should have a crisis communications plan ready to roll before an event like this happens. You need to be able to quickly take action. This can mean hiring an PR expert, activating your social media fans and or shifting the focus off the negative to something positive.
Should you ever engage someone to be the face of your brand or if one of your clients does, do thorough due diligence before you contract them. And keep your eyes wide open for any behavior that could damage your brand.
For more ideas on crisis management leadership, check out this vintage blog post. It was published when my last book, Brand Turnarounds was released.