Recently Quiznos and Subway sandwich franchises have been involved in a legal battle over Quiznos’ “Quiznos Vs. Subway TV Ad Challenge” in which consumers were asked to submit videos depicting how Quiznos is superior to Subway. There was only one winning video that was shown in Times Square on New Year’s Eve 2006 and featured on a commercial on VH1. However, all of the other videos that were submitted were posted on a Web site called http://meatnomeat.com where anybody could view them at anytime, and many of them are still on http://youtube.com. Subway has since claimed that Quiznos is guilty of defamation and false advertising because the videos implied that Subway sandwiches have far less meat than a Quiznos’ sub. Subway says that Quiznos should have filtered the videos and only chosen ones that were not defamatory to be placed on the Web site.
The contest was obviously a public relations initiative on Quiznos part, because the initiative was to connect the customers with the product and the brand specifically. Rather than developing stronger relationships with their consumers in order to reinforce brand identity, Quiznos chose to knock the competition by associating the Subway brand with inferiority. The question is whether this PR tactic was ethical or not and whether or not it was a good idea from the start.
Katie’s opinion: The ethics issue of the contest is a hard one to pin down. Subway claims that while Quiznos is not responsible for any creative work done by its consumers, it is responsible for which ones it chose to keep. Subway is also going after some of Quiznos’ actual commercials, claiming that they are defamed in those as well because they are depicted negatively. However, my question is this: why is it OK for other companies to use comparative advertising to promote their products, but it’s not OK for a sandwich company? Companies that sell cleaning products, such as Lysol, and car companies, such as Toyota, put down the competition in their commercials all the time, and nobody bats an eyelash. I don’t think that the Quiznos contest was unethical because their claim that their sandwiches have more meat or are tastier can be seen as simply a matter of opinion; however, I do think it was a poorly planned PR tactic. Quiznos’ angle is that their sandwiches have more substance than Subway, which may seem like a good quality for some people. However, in a way it also supports Subway’s “less fat” advertising campaign that they’ve been promoting for the past few years. Therefore, I think Subway’s lawsuit is a petty one. Quiznos should already feel stupid enough without losing thousands of dollars in court.
Suzanne’s opinion: I think that the whole campaign makes Quiznos look weak. It seems to me that they were unable to come up with a creative marketing strategy without targeting their toughest competition. The biggest question to me is what was the screening process of the videos? If Quiznos was really involved in filtering the user-generated videos from what could defame Subway’s reputation and what could not, then I think it was wrong. However, if they simply posted every video that was submitted onto their site, then they had no control of the content. Personally I am Subway girl, and probably always will be. Although I am a bigger fan of Subway, I am trying to see this from a neutral standpoint. Subway’s lawsuit seems a little extreme because the videos are pretty lame. I think it is tacky that Quiznos specifically asked their customers to bash Subway, instead of simply proving why Quiznos is the best sandwich shop on the market. This whole lawsuit is giving both restaurants plenty of attention whether it’s the kind they were hoping for or not.
Watch this video for an example of Quiznos versus Subway advertising:
For more information, read this article about the lawsuit from The Herald Tribune:
Katie Dageforde and Suzanne Flanagan