The Transformer: 5 Questions With Subway Global CMO Joe Tripodi

The Transformer: 5 Questions With Subway Global CMO Joe Tripodi 640 644 C-Suite Network
Subway - Grab Life By The Jalapenos

Subway has begun its brand redefinition with a high-energy, edgy campaign that ran during the Winter Olympics telecasts on NBC. But for Chief Marketing Officer Joe Tripodi, “Make It What You Want” is an apt description for the the brand’s journey, and only the beginning of transforming Subway.

The first joint chief marketing and chief commercial officer for Coca-Cola, Tripodi left a cushy gig as an Executive Vice President at the Coca-Cola Company to join the family-owned Subway in 2015. The lure: the opportunity to turn around an iconic brand in the wake of a period of unprecedented disasters, including declining sales and the sentencing and incarceration of its former spokesman, Jared Fogle, on child pornography charges. The death of co-founder Fred DeLuca, who was 17 when the first Subway opened, underlined the sense that the brand had lost its bearings and purpose.

Joe Tripodi

“I had a great run as the longest-serving head of marketing at Coke of anyone who’d come in from the outside,” Tripodi (right) told brandchannel. “When I was at Coke I also oversaw the commercial area, so I had a window into a lot of the QSR and restaurant industry. I loved the Subway positioning of affordable and nutritious food as a great alternative to the burger- and-fry restaurants. I felt it has tremendous potential. It’s a big canvas to play on, and I felt that my global background would help them quite a bit here.”

In fact, adds Tripodi—a graduate of Harvard and the London School of Economics who also worked as CMO at Allstate, the Bank of New York and Seagrams—”I’ve been helping with the whole transformation of the company. It’s daunting and exhilarating at the same time.” As part of that effort, he has been expanding his team, including recently hiring Arby’s veteran Len Van Popering as Vice President of Global Brand Management and Innovation.

As part of the turnaround in North America, the Subway MyWay Rewards is launching in the U.S. and Canada in mid-March and will be available at 28,500 restaurants, making the token-based system the largest loyalty program in the world. “The program really is about flexibility and choice to the consumer,” Subway Chief Digital Officer Carissa Ganelli told USA Today.

For more insights on the changes underway at Subway, Tripodi spoke with brandchannel about the new campaign, turnaround plan, the challenges ahead—and why customization, everyday affordability and delicious, nutritious sandwiches are still at the core of its business.

“Make It What You Want” has almost a punk rock feel; there’s even a part that says, “I do what the ___ I like!” What are you going for with this campaign?

We’re going through an epic transformation of Subway—the business, the brand and the company. Brand is an important part of that. We needed to inject more youthful energy, be edgier, more breakthrough. Consumers are getting thousands of messages every day. It’s harder and harder to reach Gen Zs and millennials, so you can’t have your advertising be wallpaper. It takes a little time to do that with a new personality and tonality for the brand that’s bolder and stronger that we think wil help break through.

Music is a powerful way to break through the clutter and also speak to what we think is a significant source of competitive advantage for us, which is a whole focus on customization and choice. No one can come anywhere near us on that. To make…