Jared: The Power Story

What's more interesting, that Subway offers seven sandwiches that are under six grams of fat or that those sandwiches helped a guy with a 60-inch waist get off the fast track to heart attack station? Answer: The story of Jared, of course. In this installment of Made to Stick, Dan Heath explains how stories about triumph over adversity make for better brand messages than ... math. Watch and then go find your own company's Jared.

[transcript of video]

Is there anyone in the US who doesn’t know the story of Jared Fogel, who lost 250 pounds by eating Subway sandwiches every day? It’s a story that has stuck on a massive scale, and I think we can learn a lot from its success. Let’s start by going back to the Pre-Jared Era.

You probably don’t remember that, before Jared, Subway had another campaign going called “7 under 6,” meaning that they have 7 sandwiches under 6 grams of fat. Both these campaigns had the same core message—that Subway has low-fat sandwiches. Yet the story of Jared crushed the statistic. Why?

A couple of reasons. It’s surprising—this guy lost a lot of weight by eating fast food every day. That won’t work for Big Macs. There are also great concrete images associated with Jared. Remember that photo of Jared holding up those gigantic pants that he used to fit into? Perhaps most importantly, Jared gives us emotion. Here’s a guy who was debilitated by his weight—he had a 60” waist, and his own father, a doctor, warned him that he might not live to 35. And so he fought it—and slowly overcame his problem with a lot of willpower and diligence and a little help from Subway.

Now, compare all of this with 7 under 6 – it’s not surprising, it’s not concrete, and there’s absolutely no emotion. Now you understand why the Jared campaign gave Subway years and years of growth.

Stories almost always come with these assets—unexpectedness, concreteness, and emotion. And that’s why they’re so powerful and enduring, and that’s why stories are such an effective communication tool: To market products to customers, to inspire employees, to explain your company’s vision to new recruits. Here’s the final twist: The reason you and I know about Jared is because of a Subway franchise owner named Bob Ocwieja, who spotted a story about Jared and brought it to the attention of Subway’s ad agency. The ad agency didn’t go looking for a weight-loss story; somebody discovered the story and brought it to them.

My suspicion is that there’s a Jared in your organization somewhere—a story that perfectly captures what you stand for. If there was, would you find it? Would you realize the asset you have on your hands?

The story of how Jared was discovered—and why Subway initially rejected the campaign—is told in the Story chapter of our book Made to Stick. (Here's an excerpt of the Jared tale.) For more on the power of stories and storytelling, check out a few of my favorite books: Story, by screenwriting guru Robert McKee; Around the Corporate Campfire by Evelyn Clark; and Stephen Denning's book The Springboard. Also watch Andy Goodman's speech, "Storytelling as Best Practice."

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