Subway’s Footlong Fiasco

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 22, 2013 – 6:02 am

In the age of social media, a corporate crisis can originate in unexpected places.

Last Tuesday, the fast food behemoth Subway found itself in a global mess when an Australian teenager named Matt Corby posted a photo to Facebook of the “SUBWAY FOOTLONG” he had purchased in Perth. The problem? It measured only 11 inches.

Subway 11 inches

The photo quickly went viral, racking up more than 100,000 likes on Corby’s Facebook page. Subway Australia did the right thing by responding the next day.

Unfortunately, they offered this ludicrous response:

Subway Footlong Facebook Posting

I’m willing to bet that the second paragraph was written (or influenced) by an attorney. Who else could come up with the sentence, “Footlong is…not intended to be a measurement of length”?

As often happens when lawyers dominate a crisis response, their words failed to meet the public “smell test” and were greeted with widespread derision. While their statement might help protect Subway’s legal flank (similar photos of short Subway Footlongs have popped up in other cities), it has fanned the flames of the crisis instead of extinguishing them, unnecessarily prolonging the length and severity of the crisis.

Plus, there’s a major message disconnect here, since the first two paragraphs stand in opposition to one another. Either the sub didn’t meet their standards and should measure 12 inches, or the name “footlong” is intended to be “descriptive,” and isn’t supposed to measure 12 inches. Both paragraphs can’t be true.

Subway’s lame excuse is akin to a car company saying “24 miles per gallon isn’t intended as a measurement of distance,” or an NFL stadium chief saying “100 yards isn’t intended to measure a specific distance.” Such statements are not only laughable, but immediately squander the credibility a company relies upon and desperately needs in a crisis.

Worse, as reporters begin digging into the details, they’re learning about other negative stories regarding Subway. The New York Post, for example, reported that Subway shops “have sliced their cold-cut sizes by 25 percent in the past few months.” By not putting out the small crisis immediately with a credible response, Subway turned a one-inch nuisance into a mile-wide disaster.

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  • About Mr. Media Training

    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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    Before founding Phillips Media Relations in 2004, Brad worked as a journalist with ABC's Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN's Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.

    Brad tweets at @MrMediaTraining.

    Christina Mozaffari is the Senior Writer for the Mr. Media Training Blog. She is the Washington, D.C. vice president for Phillips Media Relations.

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    Before joining Phillips Media Relations in 2011, Christina worked as a journalist with NBC News, where she produced stories for MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, NBC Nightly News, and The Today Show.

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