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.
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:
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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