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Feb 27, 2009 | Comments

*Only Some Sub-Sandwich Marketers.

In the history of deceptive marketing, Quiznos and Subway opened a new chapter. Their marketing promotions caught my attention. I devoted my time, effort, and trust. I converted all the way up to purchase, when I realized that the promotion did not deliver on its promise. Does this exemplify evil marketing?

Shame on me: fooled twice by Subway and Quiznos

Yesterday I received an email:

“[Friend] has sent you an opportunity to get a FREE SUB from Quiznos. Simply click the button below to access our Million Sub Giveaway website where you can register for your FREE SUB today.”

I went to Quiznos “1 million sub giveaway” promotional website, registered, force opted-in to their marketing, and printed my coupon for a free sub. After work, I jovially walked 15 minutes to the nearest Quiznos.

“One free sub please. I have a coupon ”

“We do not accept that coupon.”

“What do you mean. It reads ‘One FREE SUB’ in 96 pt font.”

“This location is not honoring the coupon. Look at the tiny, illegible print: valid only at participating locations.”

I left, vowing never to go to a Quiznos again.

[Note: this was not an isolated event. Most Quiznos in NYC and major cities do not accept the coupon.]

I decided to go to Subway–the ultimate burn: defecting to a competitor.

I recalled Subway’s ads: Any Footlong Sub for $5.

“One Footlong Chicken Piziolla please.”

“That will be $7.42″

“It’s $5. There is a sign behind you reading ‘ANY sub for $5.’”

“There is an exception. It excludes premium subs–see the footnote?”

Why Deceptive Marketing?

It’s reasonable for Subway and Quiznos to practice such marketing. The economy is rough and every fast-food chain is competing for price-sensitive customers. In a total advertisment war, Dominoes  fiercely entered Subway’s market, claiming their new oven-baked sandwiches beat Subway’s 2 to 1 (ironically, Subway sued, arguing that the “2 to 1″ study was deceptive). Further, Quiznos is a premium sandwich brand, and it likely found itself cornered as competition heated (oddly, Subway sued Quiznos over unethical advertising in 2008 [via Alan Wolk]).

To a marketer at Subway, “ANY Sub for $5″ is a compelling statement. Similarly, Quiznos’ “Million Sub Giveaway” resonates with consumers, especially given the environment.

Deception and Evil Marketing

Deceptive advertising is synonymous with evil marketers (a la Seth Godin). And it’s popular. Consider the following marketing “tactics”: Hidden fees and surcharges, Bait and Switch, Advertising the maximum, and “Selected item” Sales. It’s why consumers associate terms such as “misleading,” “fraudulant,” and “false” with advertising (via Max Kalehoff).

Given the need to attract customers in this environment, a free or discounted promotion is an effective tactic to engage consumers. It’s short-term win. But an angry customer is a long-term loss.

Could Subway have chosen a more appropriate word than “Any?” Could Quiznos have informed registrants of participating locations? This is just a sandwich. It’s not like Subway and Quiznos are advertising cigarettes to children.

But to quote Godin, “Just because you can market something doesn’t mean you should.”

In Short: As marketers, we have a responsibility; people actually trust our beautifully designed messages. Let’s focus on giving advertising a good name and stop pissing off consumers.

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