We are Subway. Oh really? I am Pied Piper!
Back in April 2015, HBO’s classic sitcom “Silicon Valley” blurred the line between art and commerce when they published real life billboards with the brilliant “I am Pied Piper” headline. It cracked me up, as I’m sure it did many others in advertising circles. For non-marketing types it may be pretty meaningless. So, what’s the big deal? Read on….
I was certain Silicon Valley’s director Mike Judge (“Office Space”, “Beavis and Butt-head”) was being all zeitgeisty, taking the piss out of ad agencies and designers who create this kind of navel-gazing campaign. But as is often the case, it was another example of a simpler explanation being the right one. You see, Judge was inspired by an ad agency in Austin Texas that was paid $60,000 to come up with a slogan for the University of Texas. And that slogan? We Are Texas.
So far so good – and although Judge might not have been aware – it was totally zeitgeisty! You see, the eponymous “We Are” slogan has become possibly the most over-used, generic tagline of all time. Have a look at these for a few examples.
If it’s good enough for Texas, it’s good enough for Texas Tech.
And why let Texas have all the fun?
And if it’s good enough for the South, its’ good enough for the Midwest too.
Yeeeha let’s go global!
Ukraine is also getting in on the act. Although it’s not enough for them to “we are”, they need to “together we are”. (It was a hard one to find because a bloke called Trump is stealing all the google space when it comes to Ukraine. Did anyone say #impeachment?)
But where “We Are” truly comes into its own is the world of sport. It seems that sporting organisations the world over can’t get enough of the good ol’ “We Are”.
Where do we start?
How about golf?
Anyone for tennis?
The Poms love a bit of “We Are”.
And us Aussies? Yeah, we like it too.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie.
I’m a patriot.
If we aren’t, maybe I am? Although to be fair, this is quite clever.
Squawk. Squawk. I am firebird.
And it’s not just cities, countries and sports that are getting in on the act. Now it’s time for the corporations.
So, what’s the point of this article/rant? It’s about originality and lifting your eyes above the horizon. It’s about looking outside the bubble that we operate in every day. I understand the role of “we are” to unite cities. I understand its role in creating sporting tribes. But corporations? Give me a break. And what about the role of advertising agencies and designers in creating this blandness? Surely their role is to challenge clients and be aware of what’s happening outside the bubble? What role does a tagline/ slogan/ positioning play in creating a distinctive brand and/or a differentiated one? Byron Sharp and Mark Ritson debate whether distinctiveness or differentiation is key. But surely both would agree that blandness is the enemy?
Which brings me to Subway.
In August it was revealed that fast food giant Subway has been forced to close more than 90 stores across Australia. The store closures have reportedly been due to a shift in consumer food trends, with some franchisees apparently struggling to break even. Businessinsider.com.au reports that “Subway is no longer more popular than Hungry Jack’s or Domino’s in Australia – and a fresh scandal alleging chronic underpayment and bullying of staff could accelerate the sandwich chain’s global downward slide.”
And how does Subway combat this? With a full page ad and a sneaky new tagline.
We are Subway.
I am Pied Piper.
I’m hoping now that you’ve been alerted to the glut of “We Are” and “I Am” campaigns, you’ll spot them everywhere. That’s called the “Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon”. Let me know what you find.
Branded Culture is a strategic brand consultancy helping companies bring their brands to life in everything they do. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org