Dynamic Marketing Communiqué

SUBliminal messages in Chicago! How did this “marketing blitz” cause a wild buzz? [Gorillas of Guerilla Marketing]

February 14, 2020

Did you ever have one of those days when you’re really hungry and you start seeing things?

For a moment, you’re not sure if what you saw was real or a figment of your imagination.

Picture this:

You’re walking home at night.

A footlong sub, to be exact.

You look again, and it’s gone.

Are you just really hungry or did you actually see a giant sandwich?

For the people walking in the streets of Chicago, it was both!

In the summer of 2018, Subway launched a 3-day guerilla marketing campaign they called, “SUBliminal messaging.” Images of their footlong subs and giant meatballs were projected on buildings and also on pavements with chalk art. They also included “bite-sized” ads in platforms like social media, television, and live events such as the World Cup.

They based their campaign on people’s subconscious suggestion while mixing in a bit of buzz-worthy and intriguing images that made people crave for Subway’s food.

In one parking lot, they even had a 3D chalk art of a giant meatball sub crashing through the cement.

Sand artists carved a footlong sub with sliced meat, cheese, tomatoes, pickles, and lettuce. Based on Subway’s 12-inch sub size, the artists turned this into 12 feet!

Subway also ran 6-second (or less) ads on TV to just show people their famous footlong sub. One TV ad showed a UFO abducting a footlong sub from a “herd” of other footlong subs. Another showed a bunch of animated bubbles coming together to form a footlong sub.

Subway also used different social media platforms. On Instagram stories, they had a filter of their sub glitching in and out. On Snapchat, they used the UFO ad as a basis for a filter. On Twitter, they released loads of GIFs of dinosaurs munching on footlong subs.

They did A LOT to create a buzz.

The branding that Subway used was also quite subtle but very distinguishable. At the end of some of their ads, they’d either show their logo or a question: “Seeing Subs?”

After the 3-day campaign, they extended their TV ads to 15 seconds and adjusted their other marketing platforms to include the line:

“You’re not crazy; you’re just hungry. Feed your SUBconscious here.”

Subway’s brand reasoning for this type of approach of guerilla marketing is that we have a media-saturated landscape. The target audience will most likely notice something that is foreign or weird to them, something that would make them question what they saw.

People really took notice because Subway’s campaign targeted almost every aspect of their life: physical surroundings, TV, and social media platforms.

Almost everyone (if not everyone) in Chicago knew about Subway’s campaign and had the subs and meatballs on their minds. People kept talking about this even after the campaign was over.

According to Subway’s 2018 annual report, they generated about $10.4 billion US in sales in the United States alone.

They also remained the number one sandwich chain in the US with systemwide sales more than 3X that of its closest competitor (Arby’s).

Other than being the largest sandwich shop, they accounted for some of the highest sales in the whole QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) industry. They ranked among the biggest players like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Starbucks.

Leading brands use guerilla marketing to induce shock and create a lasting impression on their target audience.

It looks easy BUT it takes a level of creativity and skill to be effective. This is not just something you can easily do that’s 100% successful 100% of the time. It has to be properly planned out and executed well.

Guerilla marketing helps businesses generate an intense amount of buzz among consumers.

It could benefit your business or marketing projects—you could go viral, you can build partnerships, and it will make your campaign memorable.

If you saw an ad with a giant footlong sub with lots of meat and cheese or a giant meatball sub topped with mozzarella and smothered with marinara sauce, I wouldn’t blame you for rushing over to the nearest Subway.

About The Dynamic Marketing Communiqué’s
“Fridays: Gorillas of Guerilla Marketing”

Jay Conrad Levinson (1984) said that Guerilla Marketing “works because it’s simple to appreciate, easy to execute, and inexpensive.”

Guerilla Marketing is unconventional.

Looking beyond the traditional ways of advertising, marketers and advertisers need to spice things up in order for their brand to have campaigns that not only make an impact but also stick on their target market’s mind.

Guerilla Marketing usually aims to have direct contact with consumers.

This type of direct contact should spark an emotional reaction that leads to consumers effectively remembering the brand.

It’s making a big impression and making that impression last a long time (if not forever).

Guerilla Marketing is inexpensive.

The effect of this is being able to create a buzz around the brand, and the strategy used to market it. Almost everything is passed around through word-of-mouth.

Word-of-mouth is one of the greatest outcomes and it usually doesn’t cost anything.

This is every business or brand’s dream!

Every Friday, we publish tips, examples, and other useful content on unconventional ways of marketing and promotion.

Learn more about how to grab your target market’s attention and make an amazing first and lasting impression without having to spend a lot of money.

Businesses don’t really need to spend much for a guerilla campaign. You do not need a big budget to be successful. You just need creativity and a good imagination.

Hope you’ve found this week’s guerilla marketing insight interesting and helpful.

Stay tuned for next Friday’s Gorillas of Guerilla!


Kyle Yu and Joel Litman
Head of Marketing & President and CEO
Valens Dynamic Marketing Capabilities
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This content is used with permission from The I Institute and The Business Builder Daily.

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