Subway Meets Millennials Hungry for Healthy Fast Food


By Max

Unlike most other fast food chains, Subway doesn’t target young men who are unfathomably able to down entire buckets of chicken and absorb multiple BBQ bacon cheeseburgers without showing any ill effects. Subway has, at least for the past two decades, been the fast food chain for the health conscious.

That has not changed.

The brand that keeps getting fresher

What has changed for the brand is its marketing positioning. You’ll see fewer discount ads and far more messaging about the food itself. In December 2015, their previous creative agency BBDO told the story of how Subway’s founders started the chain with the idea of serving fresh sandwiches at a “time when artificial foods and gimmicks were all the rage,” in 1965. In many ways, their latest marketing strategy follows its origins with the new tagline: “Founded on fresh.”

But while Subway is still pursuing that direction with their #SearchForBetter campaign which advertises “clean,” locally sourced ingredients as well as a goal of moving towards meat that is antibiotic and additive free, they’re parting ways with the agency that brought them there.

They’re also losing their previous celebrity focus, and, of course, distancing themselves from Jared Fogle (who is currently serving time). It’s an interesting move considering a 2013 study by restaurant consultant Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics said Jared and Subway’s “Famous Fans” had “made the chain the most effective advertising brand in restaurant history.”

The study also said Jared’s weight loss success and spokesmanship was likely the reason Subway rated so high in relatability and memorability - “crucial to Subway’s marketing.” Store sales fell 10 percent when his contract expired. No reports on how far they fell when he was convicted of possessing child pornography and crossing state lines for sex with minors.

But let’s just say Subway’s sales have been in decline.

Millennial Healthy Fast Food Consumers

Reaching for the Millennial market

Subway is trying a few new things, like a “fresh forward” redesign for 12 pilot locations which includes self-order kiosks that support Apple Pay and Samsung Pay.

“This is not digital for the sake of digital. It’s about reinventing the customer experience and meeting the expectations of customers, particularly Millennials and Gen Z.”
- Carman Wenkoff, ex-Chief Information and Digital Officer, Subway

Young people have been their target audience for decades, but right now, 57 percent of Subway’s current American audience is made up of Millennial women, most of whom live in the South.

We think there’s potential for them to have a much larger slice of the pie.

When we looked at the demographics for all of the “healthy fast food” chains, we found that 73 percent of healthy fast food consumers are women. That’s 16 percent of the target market that Subway is not reaching.

What might help is understanding this demographic more holistically.

Subway Target Audience analysis

Meet the Millennial Woman Healthy Fast Food Consumer

Millennial women who show a high interest in healthy fast food are also very invested in how they look. They’re into fragrances, hair products and skincare. They have health and fitness apps on their smartphones and when not plugging in their stats to MyFitnessPal, are probably using their phones to shop on BelleChic for handbags. They really love handbags.

Subway’s advertising hasn’t typically targeted women, which, judging from these demographics and the brand’s own, is a mistake. We see opportunities for Subway to partner with fitness apps, and perhaps update their offerings to appeal to beauty-conscious customers (rather than just weight-conscious consumers). Adding “superfood” smoothies might, for instance, be more appealing to this audience than soda. Marketing the chain as a place to have a healthful girls’ lunch might have appeal.

It looks like Subway may be coming to this conclusion already. One of their recent experiments is a Subway Cafe - a hybrid coffee shop with foot-long subs and Frapuccino-like beverages (taking a page from Starbucks’ playbook).

One thing is certain: If Subway wants to see the high growth numbers it enjoyed in the past, it has to change. They know this. But, just trying to appeal to millennials in general may not be enough. Targeting Millennial women, on the other hand, might be just the niche they need.

Subway Millennial Target Market

Learn more about Subway, the “healthy fast food” industry, and this segment of Millennial women in our latest Pitch Brief. Subway is looking for a new creative agency of record - is that you?


Topics: Knowledge; Infographic; New Business Pitch