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Does Subway ‘Footlong’ Controversy Have Legs?

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We first spotted word of the Subway ‘footlong’ controversy at BuzzFeed, but now that several media outlets have served versions of the tale, we’re going to have to dig in.

What’s this all about? Well, there’s a trademark issue involved in here somewhere — but bear with us for a second first.

OK, so this photo by Matt Corby, a teenager from Perth, Australia, is said to be the first that questioned Subway’s footlong sub’s true length:

11-inch Subway Footlong courtesy of BuzzFeed

11-inch Subway Footlong courtesy of BuzzFeed

As you can see, that particular sandwich measures eleven, not twelve inches.

Instead of letting the photo fade into social media oblivion, however, Subway Australia responded via Facebook. Paraphrasing or pulling out bits of this delicious response really wouldn’t do it justice, so:

Subway Australia's FB response courtesy of BuzzFeed

Subway Australia's FB response courtesy of BuzzFeed

The post has since been removed, but BuzzFeed picked it up and slathered on some pretty tasty sarcasm to allege that, actually, Subway plays up the whole ‘footlong’ thing regarding the footlong sub in its advertising. BuzzFeed included two images from commercials that showed actors holding out their hands twelve inches apart with a yellow double-sided arrow marking the length as “1 FT.”

And then the media chomped into this as people started posting photos of “missing inch” subs; even Stephen Colbert got into the game, referring to the two reporters who broke the story as the “Woodward and Bernstein of Oscar & Meyer.”

It may seem to be a silly controversy, but was Subway Australia really saying that their trademark is no guarantee of consistency and quality? A registered trademark is used “to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provide from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services.”

Or, as Matthew Yglesias at wrote, “You ought to be able to roll up to a Subway anywhere in the country and know that the brand stands for certain things. They’re saying, essentially, that you can’t.”

What do you think? Has Subway shot itself in the foot?

UPDATE: As a result of the social media frenzy and subsequent lawsuits, the chain offered the following statement to the Chicago Tribune: “We have redoubled our efforts to ensure consistency and correct length in every sandwich we serve. Our commitment remains steadfast to ensure that every Subway Footlong sandwich is 12 inches at each location worldwide.”


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January 22nd, 2013 at 4:05 pm