Case Study #2: Quiznos Parody Ads

Haley Mitcham

Dr. Rabby

DTC 338

16 November 2015

An Evaluation of Quiznos Parody Ads

Quiznos is a fast-food chain specializing in toasted submarine sandwiches, and is a brand that is popular and familiar to many. However, Quiznos has consistently fallen behind in terms of popularity and sales in comparison with their largest competitor, Subway. As a company, Quiznos has often tried different and creative marketing campaigns in an attempt to try and secure their position as number one in the sandwich world. Recently, Quiznos has suffered from having to declare bankruptcy, as well as experiencing a sharp decline in popularity. Branching out into the world of digital marketing and creative campaigning, Quiznos devised a different approach in an attempt to change the fate of the company.

Founded in 1981 in Denver, Colorado, Quiznos has grown to own and operate 1,500 domestic locations, and nearly 600 locations worldwide. Todd Disner and Boyd Bartlett are cited as being the masterminds behind the Quiznos toasted sandwich. “Disner and Bartlett sought to attract an upmarket customer with a taste for a healthy alternative to fast-food hamburgers..offered a less expensive option with an atmosphere more pleasant than typical fast-food restaurants”(Reference for Business, online). The sandwich company had a rocky start, being popular at first, but then losing customers, since all of the individual stores were unable to keep up with the growth and popularity of the brand, causing the quality to suffer and for the brand’s image to diminish. Having a less than successful business and flawed business plan eventually led to Disner and Bartlett’s decision to sell the company to a man named Rick Schaden (Reference for Business, online). Quiznos company folklore says that Schaden overheard a customer say, “This is the best sandwich I ever ate”, leading him to open his own franchise in Boulder in 1987, and eventually purchasing the company.

However, as history often does, the story of Quiznos repeated itself. Customers continue to complain about subpar sandwiches, and poor customer service. The sandwich restaurant has also been accused of having established some questionable business ethics. According to an article written by Karsten Strauss for Forbes.com entitled, “Is Quiznos Toast?”, the company, “…has waged a constant battle with its franchisees, many of whom accused the chain of selling rights to too many locations and demanding that franchisees buy supplies from the company at prices that made it impossible for them to succeed”(Strauss). Due to the inflation of prices, and the questioning of their business tactics, Quiznos found themselves at the center of a class action lawsuit. In 2006, almost 10,000 franchisees filed a lawsuit against the company, accusing them of forcing the stores and their owners to be “captive customers”. In 2010, Quiznos was able to settle the lawsuit, paying the plaintiffs a hefty settlement of  $206 million. This, along with other issues within the company and its franchised locations contributed yet another bruise to the sandwich company. In 2014, Quiznos had no other choice than to close 439 locations in the United States, and to eventually declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy (Strauss). In order to turn the company around, and to maintain their competitive edge against Firehouse Subs, Jimmy Johns, and “industry behemoth” Subway, Quiznos brought in their new CEO, Doug Pendergrast. Considering the history of Quiznos, Pendergrast and the rest of the Quiznos creative and digital marketing teams certainly had their work cut out for them as far as revamping and recovering the company.

In order to increase sales and to revitalize the company’s image, Quiznos had started trying to target younger audiences, making the decision to switch much of their marketing strategies over into the digital realm. The company has also refined their target audience, creating advertisements that were mostly geared toward millennial males. Starting in 2014, and continuing until recently, Quiznos has created a slew of parody ads in an attempt to connect a culturally modern and relevant connotation to the company. Quiznos parody ads are witty reenactments and mashups of current popular culture movies and TV shows. The company has brought forth popular parody ads such as, “Mad X-Men”, a mashup between the series Mad Men and X-Men, where Don Draper has to come up with an advertising campaign for sandwiches with help from his mutant coworkers. Quiznos also created an ad using  20th Century Fox’s “Maze Runner” for inspiration, adapting the story into “Waze Runner”, poking fun at GPS applications, and using Quiznos pop-ups and product placement throughout the advertisement. “House of Thrones” was created using influences from both HBO’s “House of Cards” and “Game of Thrones”, again using subtle Quiznos cues throughout the video advertisement. Inspired by the cultural phenomenon “Star Wars”, Quiznos created yet another popular parody ad,  “Startorauge”,  a mashup between “Star Wars” and the show “Entourage”. The company’s most publicized parody ad was Quiznos’ “The Burn Trials”. This parody poked fun at the popular music festival Burning Man, and captured a lot of attention from both the public and the media.

Wanting to provide a place to connect with millennial aged viewers, Quiznos created Toasty.TV. An “entertainment microsite”, Toasty.TV became a place to host all of the company’s interactive media and parody ads, dreamt up by Quiznos’ advertising team, production company Windowseat Pictures, and creative director Oren Kaplan. Quiznos worked with director Oren Kaplan in order to channel movies and television series that were current and relevant in popular culture, turning to sports, movies, and popular culture in the hopes of creating stronger connections with younger audiences through their advertisements. Windowseat Pictures,  a production company based out of Los Angeles, Orange County, and Denver, was the right combination of relevance and fun that Quiznos needed for their marketing to be effective. Having been in business for over a decade, Windowseat Pictures is an interesting combination of independent film production, and zany, off the wall advertisements. They advertise themselves as, “…non-traditional narrators, entrusted by amazing brands, to tell their stories in inventive ways and take them and their customers to creative new places” (Windowseat).  The company has also been responsible for creating ads for other well known brand names such as Camelbak, Vans, and HotWheels. Known for their creative advertising approach, Windowseat Pictures went up against 1,200 entries at The Content Marketing Awards in August of this year. Victorious, Windowseat Pictures ended up winning the award for Best Content Marketing Video Series for their work on Quiznos and Toasty.TV.

Taking advantage of their transition into the world of digital marketing, Quiznos made sure that all of their videos were all easily accessible and sharable online. Videos published to YouTube and other social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit are all accompanied by the hashtags #Quiznos, #ToastyTV, and the hashtag of the title of the parody ad, not only encouraging sharing and brand conversation between consumers, but making it easy as well. Videos published on Toasty.TV provided the option to share with lots of different social media websites at the click of a mouse. Using humor and zany advertising, Quiznos was hoping that their new creative and more humorous approach to advertising would spark conversations and sharing between viewers. Choosing to create a series of videos in order to connect with their new, younger target audience, and to increase brand engagement is a newer, more cost effective way of advertising. Good news for Quiznos, considering their recent filing of bankruptcy and their shaky sales and reviews. As the majority of users on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Reddit are younger, Quiznos was wise in choosing these social channels to advertise their product. Chris Ruszkowski, vp of marketing for Quiznos adds, “The millennial male is a hard-to-reach audience. We know we could blow our budgets with high spend ads that would pretty much be gone pretty quick” (Monllos). Wanting a cost effective way to create lasting ads and brand image association, Quiznos relies heavily on Toasty.TV to market their products.

Being focused on increasing customer engagement, Quiznos doesn’t often advertise for a specific sandwich in the parody ads. Instead, Ruszkowski argues that the “…core digital goals revolve around getting our fans to truly engage with Quiznos online and as a result, share our brand” (PR Newswire). However, all of the parody ad videos on Toasty.TV still offer an incentive for watching, and provide a link to a $1 off coupon to Quiznos. The advertisement created for “Waze Runner” provided an even bigger incentive, accompanied by a contest that would give the winner a trip for two to Hollywood, and a year of Quiznos, along with other prizes. This contest was advertised on Twitter and Facebook, providing a link back to Toasty.TV in order to enter the contest, again bringing viewers back to interacting with their brand’s website. The sandwich chain has continued to follow the same line of humorous advertising throughout other miscellaneous video advertisements created for the company, as well as in  videos that were created in order to advertise specific sandwiches. For instance, Quiznos created an ad for their lobster and seafood salad sub sandwich in the style of “The Swamp Thing”, playfully advertising the sandwich as having “clawesome proportions”. The video ads for the lobster and seafood subs, as well as their advertisements for ciabatta bread and their new pretzel sub follow the same humorous vein as the companies parody ads, following through with the company’s revised, more humorous, and more culturally hip brand image.

Trying to come back from a rough past and declaring bankruptcy, Quiznos was desperate for change. Many were questioning whether or not the company would be able to recover, and were suspect of the sandwich mogul’s marketing decisions. Quiznos vp of marketing Chris Ruszkowski comments on the success of the parody ads, “We knew we were taking a risk as a brand, we knew we were shifting dollars away from TV into digital and we’ve been tremendously happy with the risk that we took”(Monllos). The audience reactions to Quiznos’ parody ads have been mostly positive, but would they actually help to bring in customers, and to create more money for the brand?

At the very least, Quiznos was able to effectively reach their new, younger target audience through the creation of their parody ads. Chris Ruszkowski explains that, “The response has been great. Millennials follow, like, subscribe and share and we wanted to be a part of that conversation, and doing content like this allows us to be a part of that conversation”(Monllos). It’s no doubt that Quiznos parody ads have been successful. “House of Thrones” has caught 2,370,934 views on YouTube alone since being published on the website in March of 2014. Follow-up parody ad “Mad X-Men” was another success with 1,849,078 views since May of 2014. Wanting to continue this trend of success, Quiznos continued to create parody ads through 2015. Their mashup of “Star Wars” and “Entourage” reached 1,430,840 viewers, and “Waze Runner”, their play on navigational applications and 20th Century Fox’s “Maze Runner” was also successful with a lesser but still impressive 969,900 views on YouTube. Quiznos’ “The Burn Trials” has been its most publicized parody ad thus far. Published to YouTube and Toasty.TV on September 8, 2015, the video has garnished a whopping 2,671,788 views. This tremendous spike in views most likely is associated with the fact that Quiznos had received a great amount of public attention from the media, and faced possible legal action from festival leaders behind Burning Man. Concerned that the advertisement was infringing upon their intellectual property, Burning Man was considering taking legal action, but have not as of yet. Despite the controversy, Quiznos “The Burn Trials” was still undoubtedly successful. “Toasty.TV and the content housed on the site help us acheive that goal [of getting consumers excited about their marketing] validated by the large increases in visits to our online store locator each time we release new original content like ‘The Burn Trials’.” Quiznos parody ads have proven that risks can lead to rewards. According to an article written in AdWeek, Quiznos parody ads in total have, “…topped 11 million video views, and there have been over 38,000 engagements on the channel, a 63 percent increase since its launch.” It’s difficult to speculate whether or not video views, comments, and shares will translate into an increase in physical customers, but it’s hopeful.

Viewers discuss opinions on the Startourage ad on Facebok
Viewers discuss opinions on the Startourage ad on Facebok
Facebook users weigh in on the Burning Man versus Quiznos debacle.
Facebook users weigh in on the Burning Man versus Quiznos debacle.
Quiznos attempts to respond to customer concerns quickly and politely.
Quiznos attempts to respond to customer concerns quickly and politely.
YouTube users comment on Quiznos Star Wars parody ad
YouTube users comment on Quiznos Star Wars parody ad

Quiznos marketers utilized the TrueView ad unit on YouTube, allowing them to track how many viewers used the “skip” option allowed during their ad. In regards to their “House of Thrones” video, 70% of its views were free, largely due in part to organic sharing (Heine). Quiznos continuously continues to publish their parody advertisements onto both Toasty.TV as well as YouTube, allowing them to track and monitor their media in order to see what is successful and what needs to be reworked. Recent searches conducted on socialmention.com show that Quiznos does indeed appear to have been able to do some damage control, and to reach a decently large percentage of customers with their parody advertisements. According to the website, Quiznos has been able to achieve a 65% reach. This number shows that Quiznos advertisements were able to spark conversation online about their brand, as well as measuring the company’s range of influence with at least 65% of their consumers. Results at the time of the search also shows that Quiznos has a strength percentage of 73%, which is positive, showing that the likelihood of their brand being discussed on social media is relatively high. Quiznos has small, but decent measures of sentiment, showing a 2:1 rate of positivity versus negativity in regards comments made and shared about their company on social media websites. However, passion, a term that is used to describe and measure how often consumers and social media users were apt to repeatedly talk about the brand, was only at 10% for Quiznos. Further sentiment breakdown shows that most of the comments about the company are neutral (144), and have twice as many positive comments as they do negative (20 vs. 10). Most of the mentions of Quiznos and their parody ads were on Twitter and Photobucket. Fifty-four of the mentions were also split between Delicious (26), Reddit (20), and Ask (8).

In comparison with results from their largest competitor, Subway, Quiznos has a stronger rating of strength and reach, but the sandwich giant has them beat in all of the arenas of sentiment (6:1), passion (18%), and the amount of mentions on social media all together. Simple comparisons between social media pages for the two sandwich chains show clearly that Subway still has a greater presence and pull with sandwich lovers, having 3,621,484 followers on Facebook, and 2.3 million followers on Twitter. Comparatively, Quiznos has only 1,307,663 followers on Facebook, and 77.3 thousand followers on Twitter.    

Quiznos has been private about whether or not their video views have translated over to an actual increase of revenue for the company, but one thing is for sure: Quiznos has, over time, perfected the art of the parody ad, and have also been successful in marketing it to, and reaching their target audiences. With their marketing strategies being successful, Quiznos now needs to focus on their product quality, and quality of customer service in order to help bring customers back into their stores.

Works Cited

Addady, Michael. “Why Burning Man Could Be Suing Quiznos.”

Fortune Why Burning Man Could Be Suing Quiznos. Fortune.com,

13 Sept. 2015. Web. 13 Nov. 2015. <http://fortune.com/2015/09/13/burning-man-quiznos/>.

Heine, Christopher. “Quiznos’ Parody Ad Comically Mashes Up Star Wars

and Entourage.”AdWeek.

16 Apr. 2015. Web. 13 Nov. 2015. <http://www.adweek.com/news/technology/quiznos-playful-parody-ad-comically-mashes-star-wars-and-entourage-164100&gt;.

Monllos, Kristina. “Here’s Why Quiznos Marketing Has Become All About

the Pitch-Perfect Parody Video.” AdWeek. 15 Sept. 2015. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.  <http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/heres-why-quiznos-marketing-has-become-all-about-pitch-perfect-parody-video-166839>.

“Quiznos Partners with 20th Century Fox and “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials”

for First Major Motion Picture Partnership.” Quiznos Partners with 20th Century Fox and ‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials’ For… Web. 13 Nov. 2015. <http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/quiznos-partners-with-20th-century-fox-and-maze-runner-the-scorch-trials-for-first-major-motion-picture-partnership-300138476.html>.

Strauss, Karsten. “Is Quiznos Toast?” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 1 June 2015. Web.

13 Nov. 2015.    <http://www.forbes.com/sites/karstenstrauss/2015/06/17/is-quiznos-toast/>.

“The Quizno’s Corporation – Company Profile, Information, Business Description,

History, Background Information on The Quizno’s Corporation.” The Quizno’s Corporation – Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on The Quizno’s Corporation. Web. 13 Nov. 2015. <http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/history2/19/The-Quizno-s-Corporation.html&gt;.

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Case Study #2: Quiznos Parody Ads

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