Subway Dieting For Money: A Question of Ethics


The New York Times ‘Health’ Section featured a story about fast-food restaurants featuring healthy menu additions. Apparently, Taco Bell has a new Fresco menu that they are advertising through their Drive-Thru Diet Menu campaign. Like Subway, Taco Bell is working to change the unhealthy reputation fast-food has made for itself. I appreciate the efforts, but come on, fast-food has a history of grease and calories that will forever surpass Fresco Menus and persuasive advertising campaigns.

Fast-Food Dieting

Subway has recently taken on some new promotional activity that raises some ethical uncertainty. New Subway Spokesperson, “The Biggest Loser” winner Shay Sorrells, has been offered $1,000 for every pound she loses until May.

Subway is using a public figure to promote their sandwiches as a dieting tool. In my mind, this is unethical because there are many factors that contribute to Shay Sorrells weight loss that are not revealed to Subway’s advertising audience. Due to Subway’s highly commercialized nature, they are part of the bandwagon that use pop culture as a promotion strategy. Instead of promoting their product (sandwiches), they are promoting a figure in pop culture. I know that advertising is tested with a significant amount scientific research that proves certain strategies to be successful, however, I am one to buy a product because the I want the product. In this specific case, Subway is telling consumers to buy Subway sandwiches because Biggest Loser winner, Shay Sorrells, is losing weight by eating them. Of course she is losing weight, Subway is giving her $1,000 to do exactly that!

Dear Subway,

If you give me $1,000 to lose weight, I’ll be the skinniest girl you know. But, since I have ethical values, I wouldn’t publicly promote your sandwiches in return. Do we still have a deal?

Your friend,



4 Responses to “Subway Dieting For Money: A Question of Ethics”

  1. Take heart in the fact that the fast food corporations that are attempting to change their image by promoting healthier food options may ultimately suffer to the changes they make. Ultimately, they’re trying to change their brand, and people respond better to companies that maintain a constant message in their advertising than those that are one thing one week and something else the next. McDonald’s is an excellent example of this, they’ve been switching from healthy food promotions so super-sized promotions for quite some time, and they’re losing business for it. Taco Bell would do better to find itself another chihuahua than to try to pass its food of as healthy – you can see the grease dripping out of your taco, you know it’s not good for you. As far as Subway, they are at least maintaining a constant image in their advertising. And, thanks to the Jared scandal where everyone realized the limitations on the food he ordered to make it healthy, and that he incorporated exercise into his diet plan (like walking to subway to get his food) people will look at their newest advertising campaign with a critical eye.

  2. As unethical as this advertising campaign may seem, it is a brilliant way to play off of the insecurities many American women face in this day and age. Think of all the young women who happen to look like Shay Sorrell. This ad campaign tells them that they look like a big loser and should start going to subway or no one will like them.
    In Germany, Subway Restaurants ran an ad campaign for the movie “Supersized” which depicted a fat statue of liberty with the question “Why are Americans so fat?” at the bottom. Subway owes its success largely to its marketing strategy which designates it as a healthy alternative to the other fast food that makes you fat. Subway can afford to be unethical in its marketing so long as it’s not so obvious that they are being manipulative and evil. Being strategically unethical is sometimes the most profitable approach for corporations to increase brand awareness.

  3. 3 katiestansberry

    One of my favorite case studies in Made to Stick is the Subway story. “Jared” was a great campaign, but as you pointed out any fast-food weight-loss campaign is not without ethical issues. What do you think of all the product placement (including Subway) on Biggest Loser?

  4. The product placement on Biggest Loser has definitely gotten out of hand. In the show’s defense, it is basically entirely funded by advertisements. I understand their need for funding, however; the extreme amount of product placement on the show causes me to believe that they are making more money than necessary. According to, Biggest Loser had 6,248 product placements throughout its sixth season. Biggest Loser was the highest out of the top 10 reality shows on TV. The amount of product placement contradicts the message Biggest Loser is trying to send. Product placement encourages consumerism, which contributes to obesity in our culture. All in all, the show is too concerned with making money rather than channeling their efforts towards sending a positive message.

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