Southwest Airlines Versus Subway Restaurants: A Case Study in Advertising

At first it was cute. I would hum it under my breath. It was a promotion that was sweeping the nation—move over Jared, Subway's $5 foot long sub (ANY) campaign was a hit. That was until about two weeks into it when I realized Subway's corporate definition "ANY" must be at least slightly different from those of their franchisees. On more than one occasion, local restaurants (who were in the same market in which the ads were running) were covering over half of the subs on their menus—and not even doing a good job of masking the menus at that. One restaurant I visited just taped up a piece of poster board over the pricier subs. Talk about inconspicuous.

That was about a year ago (or whenever the promotion started). But today, in yet another Subway location, I noticed the same thing.  One static cling with "any" in all capital letters while a few feet away another static cling says only eight sandwiches are part of the promotion. Which one is it?

I'm sure the franchises weren't excited about taking the financial hit (assuming the promotion is cutting into their margins), but how can there be such a huge disconnect between a national advertising campaign and the franchisees?

And, from a cost standpoint, does it really make a difference? When you're Subway, does it really matter if someone orders turkey instead of chicken? When you're buying in such large quantities across the company, aren't we talking about fractions of pennies on the dollar?

Southwest, on the other hand, is capitalizing on their successful "bags fly free" campaign. Although I'm not a huge fan of their whimsical approach to flight (I would prefer to pass on flight attendants telling jokes when we're 40,000 feet off of the ground), they have been able to run with it. And, from those who fly Southwest, I haven't heard any stories about arriving at the airport only to find that "bags fly free" means they actually don't.

Southwest is keeping it simple and authentic with their current ad campaign—bags fly free means bags fly free. Subway, on the other hand, leaves me scratching my head as they continue to find new ways to define the word "any." Even though their jingle is catchy, the major disconnect between their advertising campaign and pricing at the store level means I'm going to shop around the next time I'm jonesin for a sandwich.   

Shawn Graham is Director of MBA Career Services at the University of Pittsburgh and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (

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