Making it Stick: The Subway Story

Did you hear about the guy who lost weight by eating fast food?

One of the best examples used in Made To Stick of how the SUCCES principles can be used to make your message memorable is the Subway advertising campaign centred around Jared, a once-obese man who created what is now known as “The Subway Diet”.

The Jared story has all six elements of “stickiness” and it uses them so well that Jared featured in Subway advertisements for 10 years.

Who is Jared and what is his story?

12 years ago, while Jared was in college, he had a serious weight problem. At one stage he weighed 425lbs (193kg), he wore XXXXXXL shirts and he wore trousers with a 60-inch (152.4 cm) waist. As you can imagine, this affected nearly every aspect of his life even down to the choice of which college courses he took. This is described in an article in the Indiana Daily Student:

He didn’t base his choice on professor or class time like most students. He based which classes to register on whether he could fit into the classroom seats.

Jared knew that his weight would lead to serious health problems and decided to slim down. At the time Subway had a campaign advertising how some of its “Sub”” sandwiches contained under 6 grams of fat. Liking the taste of the sandwiches, Jared decided to base his diet on these low-fat subs.

And it worked. After 3 months, he weighed 330lbs. He kept up the diet and combined it with regular exercise. One year later, he weighed a much healthier 180lbs (82kg).

It sounds like the perfect ad campaign, doesn’t it? And it was, it resulted in in increased sales for Subway and made Jared a household name.

Why does it work?

Simply put, it works because it follows the six principles of the SUCCES model:

  1. Simple – A simple and accessible core idea helps us remember the message, Subway’s core message is “By eating low fat subs, you too can lose weight”. It’s simple and thus easy to remember.
  2. Unexpected – Think about it, when you talk about your day in work, do you tell people about all the normal everyday things that happened or do you tell people about the unplanned, the unexpected? We tend to remember better that which surprises us, like the twist in a movie or book, or the time your sister fell off her bike and broke her tooth. In order to make your message sticky, you need to surprise your audience. Subway’s Jared story is a perfect example of this with its memorable illogic – “He lost weight by eating fast food? That’s impossible!”
  3. Concrete – You need to make it real for your audience, add details because details help them to imagine better what you are trying to tell them, the more you help your audience imagine, the more likely they are to remember. Subway did this by showing us the trousers that he wore, the before and after photos, they gave us hard numbers about the weight he lost(450lbs, 180lbs) and they told us what he eat as part of his diet, this made it more real and thus more memorable.
  4. Credible – In order to make us believe in the message, we need to make it credible, and we can do this in a number of ways, we can use experts (scientists, engineers, doctors), we can use people that our audience look up to or find inspiring (celebrities, respected public figures, speakers) or we can use someone that has shared our problem and has found a way to solve it, a real person, just like us. Subway chose the third option, here was a man who lost 245lbs, he knows what he’s talking about, this is someone we can trust and believe in.
  5. Emotion – A great way to get people to remember your message is to get them emotionally involved, make them care, make them angry, make them want to do something as a result of hearing your message. We can do this with stories but we also need to make the story’s hero someone that the audience can emotionally relate to – a girl suffering from malnutrition who could be their daughter, niece or friend, or a man who has money problems, we all know someone like that, we can relate to their problems and their situation. Subway chose for us another familiar character, a man with weight problems.  We all have friends who struggle with their weight so we could naturally feel the emotional significance of Jared’s story and this empathy helps us remember Subway’s message.
  6. Story – Think about when you were a child and how effective the story about “the boy who cried wolf” was as a lesson to you, would your parents telling you not to lie have been as effective? We love stories, they involve us, they spark our imagination, they help us remember. The heart of the Subway campaign was Jared’s story and this was what made it so successful, it gives hope and inspiration to others who were in Jared’s situation – hope and inspiration always make a message sticky.

When you are working on your next presentation, think about how you can use the SUCCES model to make your message memorable to your audience.