Buying audience data: A lesson from 4 Subway marketing slogans

  •   July 3, 2019
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Today, every brand and agency knows that advertising is a data-driven endeavor. But the ubiquity of data hasn’t made it any easier to understand the notoriously murky data business, much less identify which data sets or audiences are going to work best for a particular campaign. Brands and agencies consistently ask versions of the same question: “How do I know this data is any good?”

While there are hundreds of vendors who will promise that their products are the best, the easiest way for brands and agencies to evaluate data might be to think like Subway.

Yes, Subway, the sandwich chain. Subway has ingrained itself in the American dining landscape this century, aided by considerable investment in advertising and many fantastic taglines — chances are, consumers still know which chain is responsible for a $5 footlong. When brands and agencies evaluate their data through the lens of Subway’s marketing messaging, I think they’d be pleasantly surprised to see how applicable the sandwich maker’s philosophy is to the data shopping process.

‘The way a sandwich should be’

Subway’s first truly memorable slogan was launched in 1996, with the goal of differentiating the chain from competitors like McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC that were seen as unhealthy, standardized fast food. The main idea was that Subway was doing something right that their competitors couldn’t hope to achieve.

Audience data is no different. If the data appears to be nothing more than a commodity, and it’s difficult to differentiate its value from the competition, then the odds are that it’s not of high value to a campaign. While many segments might be fast and convenient, brands need to examine the quality and underlying assembly of audience products before purchasing. In a sea of delicious options, there’s no reason to pick the sizeable commoditized version.

‘Eat fresh’

Subway updated its main slogan in 2000, leaning further into the idea of being a healthy alternative and aligning the brand with growing customer interest in transparency and quality ingredients.

Most terms that speak to the quality and health of food can also be applied to audience data. Brands need to ensure that they are getting fresh data – the more recent the information, the more likely the consumers within a given segment are still actively pursuing or considering a purchase. Incredible advancements in machine learning and recent engineering breakthroughs mean that stale audience segments should be a thing of the past. Transparency matters too. With regulations like GDPR and CCPA, it’s imperative that brands and agencies understand how segments are assembled and where the data comes from.

‘$5 footlong’

In 2008, Subway kicked off one of the most famous fast food promotions ever: for a limited time, all foot-long sandwiches were available for just $5. The timing was perfect, aligning with a massive economic recession, and the message was simple. What better way to win the hearts and minds of consumers then giving them something healthy at an easy to remember the price?

Data pricing is admittedly a little more complicated than a $5 sub, but not exponentially so. At a high level, all audience data should be simple and affordable, whether it’s priced at a flat CPM or percent of media.

Yes, the best audience data likely costs more, but when that comes with the transparency and freshness discussed above, it’s easy to understand where the investment is going. Consider at the time that Subway was competing with $1 menus from its fast-food competitors. These restaurants offered no transparency and no sense of freshness. Good for the wallet? Yes. Good for the stomach? Probably not. Data is no different.

‘Make it what you want’

The latest Subway slogan debuted in early 2018, aligning with a growing consumer need for individuality and customization. The chain always let customers build their own sandwiches, but now it promotes the fact that it can deliver a unique taste to every single diner.

That promise should sound familiar to anyone who’s ever executed a programmatic buy. Audience data moves brands away from demographic-based scale buys and delivers the message to highly-specific segments. Data buyers should be shopping for customization, so that they can reach the audiences that best align with their brand. Whether it’s customized by modeling first-party data, or through leveraging a data partner’s raw data assets, customization will allow buyers to build audiences that precisely match campaign goals.

For more than two decades, Subway has pushed a message of quality, freshness, value and customization. Those are exactly the same criteria advertisers are looking for when they buy data. They want to purchase audiences of the utmost quality, tuned and updated frequently to maintain relevance, priced in a simple and efficient way to increase ROI, and customized just the way they want.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.