The singing Quiznos rodents, explained.

Advertising deconstructed.
Feb. 23 2004 5:34 PM

The Creatures From the Sandwich Shop

Behind the singing rodents in the Quiznos ad.

Quiznos' singing rodent The spot: A small, furry creature, wearing a bowler hat, levitates as he sings an ode to Quiznos subs. Nearby, another flying creature wears an 18th century seafaring hat, and strums on an acoustic guitar. Song lyrics: "We love the subs! 'Cuz they are good to us. The Quiznos subs. They are tasty, they are crunchy, they are warm because they toast them. They got a pepper bar!"

Never have I gotten so much mail on a single ad. I gather that you seek an explanation. And with great urgency. Many of you sound disturbed—as though your lives will be placed on hold until you've come to terms with these haunting creatures.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

I wish I could help. But what can be said? I mean, it's a screeching, levitating prosimian in a bowler hat. You'll find no easy answers here, people. What I can tell you is this:

These characters come from a man named Joel Veitch, who makes television shows for Britain's Channel 4 *  (according to his Web site, www.rathergood.com). On his site, you can see these creatures in a January 2003 video clip, in which they sing about loving the moon, marmots, cheese, dirigibles, and several other nouns. The clip, which calls the characters "spongmonkeys," seems pretty clearly the basis for the Quiznos ad. (Quiznos says a guy from their ad firm received the clip in an e-mail from a friend and decided it was perfect for a new campaign.)

According to Trey Hall, the chief marketing officer, Quiznos gets loads of mail on these ads. He says it breaks into three categories: 1) "What are these creatures?"; 2) "You gotta be kidding"; and 3) "This is genius advertising!" Since that's pretty much the breakdown in my mailbag, too, I'll take these one by one.

What are these creatures? As I say, they're called spongmonkeys. I don't know why and neither did Hall. In your mail to me, you've called them: gerbils with birth defects; Mr. Potato Rats; drug-addled, castrato hamsters; and "hell lemurs" (which, while catchy, is not really accurate, as the lemur body type is far more ectomorphic). Whatever they are, they're clearly Photoshopped, and if pressed I would say the base element is a pygmy marmoset.

You gotta be kidding. Many of you are repulsed by the spongmonkeys, can't fathom how they would make you desire a sub, and worry that these ratlike creatures suggest an unsanitary sandwich-prep environment.

Hall says that Quiznos needs to be "dramatic" with the airtime it buys, because it's got a smaller ad budget than its competitors. It's a brand that's still in a growth stage, and its main goal right now is awareness—i.e., water-cooler talk. Mission accomplished, I'd say. By the way, this is an ongoing strategy for Quiznos and has met with some detractors in the past. Last fall, Ad Report Card critiqued a Quiznos spot in which a man suckles at the teat of a she-wolf.

This is genius advertising! You know what? I totally agree! Teat-sucking was over the line, yes, but the spongmonkeys are delightful. They've got a certain winning charm—you can feel it in the way they sing "pepper baaarrrr!" And come on, the pirate hat? Kudos.

Is this ad incomprehensibly weird? Yes. Quiznos transformed a piece of outsider art into a nationwide ad campaign. And I'm all for it. I hope their next ad somehow features a 16-foot model of the Lusitania built entirely of toothpicks and wood glue.

Also, believe it or not, there is some classic marketing strategy going on here. As others have pointed out, this spot—unlike shock-spots with, say, flatulent horses—actually centers on product attributes. We're told that Quiznos subs are tasty, crunchy, warm, and toasted. We're introduced to the concept of the pepper bar, which one imagines is a bar stocked with a menagerie of peppers. (Not really my thing, but still, a selling point of sorts.)

Last week, I wrote about spokes-humanoids and the value of creating a brand icon. The spongmonkeys clearly fit in the former category, but they may never grow into the latter. "We don't necessarily have those kinds of aspirations for the spongmonkeys," says Hall, completely deadpan. And that's OK. Not every spokes-being is built for the long haul. But I'll miss the spongmonkeys when they're gone.

Grade: A. You're either gonna give this one an A or an F, and I respect those of you who go with F. The spongmonkeys are no doubt divisive characters. But what can I say? I love the subs! They got a pepper bar!

Correction, Wednesday, March 3, 2004: This piece originally reported that Joel Veitch makes television shows for the BBC. In fact, he works with Britain's Channel 4. Return to the corrected sentence.