What the Jared Scandal Means for Subway

Jared Fogle of Subway
••• Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

There are few phrases more heinous than “child pornography.” It’s an epidemic that has spread rapidly due to the Internet, and anything that can be done to wipe it out should be promoted and applauded. So, when the public face of your company is associated with it, the fallout is enormous and must be handled swiftly and severely. When details emerged of the FBI investigation into Subway pitchman Jared Fogle’s home, and the ties to child pornography, Subway issued the following statement:

“We are shocked about the news and believe it is related to a prior investigation of a former Jared Foundation employee," the statement read. "We are very concerned and will be monitoring the situation closely. We don’t have any more details at this point.”

That was a good start. Obviously, Subway did not want to come straight out an say “we’re done with Jared, he’s a child pornography peddler,” because there was no evidence of that at the time the news story broke. However, that evening at around 5:30 pm, the following announcement was made by Subway’s corporate headquarters:

"Subway and Jared Fogle have mutually agreed to suspend their relationship due to the current investigation…Jared continues to cooperate with authorities and he expects no actions to be forthcoming. Both Jared and Subway agree that this was the appropriate step to take."

As anyone who works in any kind of corporate environment knows, these public statements are not simply drafted and released within a few hours. It takes a lot of eyes, and a lot of scrutiny, plus approvals from many, many people. One could assume the statement initially given by Subway was simply a way to buy time while the corporation scrambled its legal team to find out exactly what the damage was, and how best to remove themselves as far from the scandal as possible.

Or, over the course of the day, Subway learned more from the FBI and decided then to sever ties to Fogle. Either way, Subway is now tied to child pornography and will be for the foreseeable future. Could this have been avoided? Well, the simple answer is yes. As it turns out, the investigation, and search and seizure of Fogle’s Indiana home, was not an isolated incident.

Two months earlier, on April 29, 2015, Jared Foundation Director Russell Taylor was arrested and charged with child exploitation, possession of child pornography, and voyeurism. Around one week later, Taylor attempted suicide in his cell.

Both of these incidents were widely reported across news outlets around the country, and the world. At that point, although there was no mention of Fogle’s involvement, one thing was perfectly clear – the name Jared Fogle was directly tied to child pornography. That, in itself, should have been something that concerned Subway very deeply.

Fogle did release a statement saying, I was shocked to learn of the disturbing allegations against Mr. Taylor. Effective immediately, the Jared Foundation is severing all ties with Mr. Taylor.”

In hindsight, that’s certainly a statement that seems a little disingenuous. It was something he had to do, but at that point, the damage was done. Why didn’t Subway sever all ties with Fogle until the investigation was completed? Something as simple as:

“In light of the recent news of the allegations against Mr. Taylor, Director or the Jared Foundation, Subway and Jared Fogle have mutually agreed to suspend their relationship due to the current investigation.”

That’s all it would have taken to ensure the minimal amount of blowback. Subway did not act on it though. And now, without a good PR strategy, they are paying the price. Some would say “innocent until proven guilty” is the reason. Well, marketing and advertising is not like a court of law. The court of public opinion can bury a brand in days, or even hours on social media, and that has to be taken into account.

Stores around the country have been plastering masking tape of Fogle’s face in promotional posters and standees. That looks horrendous. Subway will, for the near future, be associated with child pornography, and that is a very tough association to remove. Subway…this all could have been avoided.