When the Brand Spokesperson Fails

January 15, 2010

Uh-oh! Subway’s “I lost weight by eating at Subway” spokesperson Jared Fogle has put on 30 pounds. For years, Jared has been a symbol for everyday folk who want a healthier fast food alternative.

He attributes some of his weight gain to falling in love, causing his attention to focus elsewhere – but that false claim has been used by lovebirds for decades. Like many, he probably just lost track of his food intake and exercise output and packed on the pounds. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy, but it does raise the question – what’s Subway going to do now that he no longer embodies the brand image?

Jared is packing more than a suitcase.

Hmph. A quandary …

When Kirstie Alley didn’t find success with Jenny Craig, they dropped her like a hot potato and her weight is still being discussed in gossip mags. I understand from a brand perspective that they want to display successful results with their spokespeople. But let’s think about this for a minute.

Both Subway and Jenny Craig market to people who struggle with their weight, right? I’ll bet most of these folks have tried several different avenues before essentially inventing the Subway approach or signing up for Jenny Craig. It’s human nature to see before/after results, get excited and think, “Yep — this is my ticket.” Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. So what message does it send to people when the company you trust to help get your weight back on track shies away from someone who fell off the wagon or didn’t achieve and maintain the right results?

Yes, people do expect more from a company spokesperson (heck, you’re paid a lot of money to help bring the brand proposition to life). But here’s another thing to consider: spokespeople are just like you and me. They have ups and they have downs, and when dealing with weight, it can be a struggle – especially if you live your life in the limelight.

So here’s a thought: What about supporting these spokespeople in their quest to lose the weight again? What about creating an online support system with help from the celebrities that can be used by everyone who struggles with yo-yo weight issues? What about letting your target audience know that like everyone else, these people have ups and downs and because YOU, as a company, are interested in attracting customers through promises of thinness (and happiness), you might also help them continue on their quest to stay healthy and keep the weight off?

Would it work? Does it require a big shift from a branding perspective? Does it take away from your original message? Discuss.