Why is Jared still shilling for Subway?

Advertising deconstructed.
Oct. 6 2003 5:55 PM

The Tao of Jared

The Subway spokesman who won't go away.

For a shockingly long time now, the Subway sandwich chain has made a man named Jared a centerpiece of its advertising. Jared is the guy who somehow lost hundreds of pounds by eating nothing but certain Subway menu offerings. He now has a perfectly respectable build, but I like to call him "That Fat Guy" anyway. Apparently even Subway had been wondering whether it was time to drop That Fat Guy. But the fact of the matter is, he's very popular—almost what passes for a folk hero in modern America. He is credited with inspiring others to lose weight, and he travels around the country making personal appearances. Could they really get rid of him?

See Jared again, again ... (click still to view the ad) No. Jared has lately returned in two new Subway campaigns. In one series he plays a bit role. The spot he's in begins with a couple—schlubby guy and his improbably cute companion—spotting Jared in a fancy restaurant. "Jared—what are you eating?" Schlub asks, sounding alarmed. "It's OK," Jared assures them, "I had Subway for lunch." Ah! An announcer butts in to explain that Subway lets you "feel good about being good, and OK about being bad." But the real punch line is yet to come: Cute Companion is out partying, for some reason, at a club that features male strippers—and one of them is her Schlub. "Phil? What are you doing?" Phil, who is hairy and notably overweight, gyrates grotesquely against a pole and says, "No no, it's OK—I had Subway."

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Hilariously (in theory) this man and characters in the related ads have taken the lesson of Subway ("Good, so you don't have to be") rather further than was intended. On the most basic level, the lesson is that dieters can have whatever they want for dinner, as long as they ate lunch at Subway. Which is ridiculous. But the more extreme version of the idea is even stranger—that the consumption of these sandwiches somehow makes up for or redeems bad behavior. It's like reciting Hail Marys. And it's the only way to walk the path of Jared.

The scriptures according to Jared (click the still to view the ad) Before you dismiss that reckless religious-sounding comparison, consider the second, more Jared-heavy set of ads. One starts with a blond woman holding an ugly item she refers to as a "monkey lamp," which she explains was a gift from her mother-in-law. She isn't sure whether to return it, given the potential hurt feelings involved. "So, I said to myself—What would Jared do?"

The close echo of "What Would Jesus Do?" might be an accident. Or some kind of satire. In any case, we cut to Jared, facing the camera in front of a big "Ask Jared" sign, the set of a made-up advice show. He tells the woman to return the lamp (mom-in-law "just wants you to be happy") and then "get a red wine vinaigrette club." In another spot, a wise-looking judge rattles off a jargon-filled description of a case he's had a hard time ruling on, and he, too, asks WWJD? Jared offers an equally jargony response and adds a sandwich recommendation.

Obviously it's all a silly joke, and Jared's advice is meant to be nothing more than funny. (The shrewish mother-in-law in the monkey lamp ad is clearly ticked off; a bumbling guy asking advice about a how to deal with a grease fire is promptly shown in front of his flame-spouting property; in response to a question about a parachute problem, Jared simply screams in terror; etc.) But just as obviously, the joke is not on Jared, nor is it on the ad characters seeking his advice. The joke is on Jared's fans. What the ads say, in so many words and images, is that he is an absurd role model. His hoagier-than-thou teachings—excuse your sins with token "goodness," treat paid mascots as heroes, lose weight by eating at a crummy fast food place—make him a kind of perfect false idol for consumer America. This must be what Subway is trying say—these ads must be designed to save us all. Sadly, it can't work. Jared's dogma is too powerful. Particularly now that he's revealed that we don't have to eat at Subway all the time to be true believers.

Rob Walker is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and Design Observer and the author of Buying In.

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