The man who had been the face of global food franchise Subway for more than a decade is reportedly planning to plead guilty to charges that he was in possession of child pornography.
In response to the news, Subway announced that it is terminating its relationship with Jared Fogle, or Jared as many Subway customers came to know him as.
While an undesirable turn of events for Subway, the company has fared better than other brands that have faced the downfall of a high-profile spokesperson.
Here’s what other brands can learn from Subway’s experience and response.
People are risky
Despite the many benefits that can be realized by associating a brand with a recognizable human face, people are dynamic and do unpredictable things. Companies can never be certain of what the people they make the faces of their brands are doing in their personal lives.
Numerous brands have learned this the hard way.
When the news broke that Tiger Woods was having extramarital affairs, brands that had aligned themselves with him because of his stellar image were shocked.
Jared Fogle, of course, isn’t a typical celebrity promoter. Fogle, who became known as the Subway Guy, attracted Subway’s attention when his weight loss, which he attributed to a “Subway diet,” was publicized in print media.
Eventually, he earned the role of Subway spokesman and appeared in hundreds of Subway television commercials.
But despite Fogle’s humble background, seemingly normal family life and charitable work, Subway’s experience demonstrates that it’s not just powerful celebrity entertainers who can find themselves at the center of high-profile scandal.
It pays to take action quickly
When news broke that Fogle’s home was raided by authorities, Subway immediately suspended its relationship.
A company statement created clear distance with its spokesman:
We are very concerned and will be monitoring the situation closely. We don’t have any more details at this point.
While Subway didn’t go so far as to end its relationship with Fogle, its quick response, which left little doubt about the company’s position, helped Subway minimize the impact of the news on its brand at the time. And it paved the way for Subway to completely terminate its relationship with Fogle without having to take an overly defensive posture.
Less isn’t more, but sometimes it’s best
When Subway terminated its relationship with Fogle, it did so in few words.
We no longer have a relationship with Jared and have no further comment.
— SUBWAY® (@SUBWAY) August 18, 2015
Some suggested that Subway should take bolder action by donating to the victims of sexual abuse, and others used the scandal to make inappropriate jokes about Subway.
Such responses are unavoidable, but because Subway had already distanced itself from Fogle, it was in a position to end its relationship unceremoniously and without facing a true firestorm.
It’s possible to escape a bad situation relatively unscathed
Because Subway took decisive action quickly, it appears the company will escape the Jared Fogle scandal without the type of lasting damage that could have been done had it stood by Fogle or taken a wait-and-see approach.
Obviously, it was probably easier for Subway to take decisive action because of the nature of the situation, but this incident highlights the fact that while brands often perceive decisive action to be the riskiest path, delaying a strong response when a PR crisis is brewing can be even riskier.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Despite the fact that it appears Subway will be able to move on without Jared Fogle brand intact, losing a high-profile spokesperson is never easy.
As AdAge notes, the timing isn’t ideal for the food franchise either. By one estimate, the company’s sales declined by 3% last year and the company lost its CMO earlier in the year.
The lesson for brands: even if you have a strong spokesperson, diversification of brand assets is always a wise investment.
Here’s some more guidance on maintaining an online reputation for brands.