BuzzShare: Tristan J Steiner — Hot Subway Ad Sandwich
Posted by Hilary Craig on August 31st, 2011
Tristan J Steiner (@trijste) shares with us the second in a series of advertising critiques from Toronto, Canada. Interested? Check it out below.
***This is the second in a series of posts documenting advertisements in Toronto.
Here’s an ad that ran in the subway system for a few months in late spring. It advertised a limited time sandwich option from the Subway restaurant chain and, clearly, the advertisers used as many tactics as they could to make the idea of heat synonymous with the sandwich. The premise of this particular ad is that the sandwich is so hot it’s melted completely through a plastic tray.
There’s the melted tray, the fake steam rising off the sandwich, the bold red font, the warm yellow background, the word “diablo” in the name, all of which intend to sell heat to the audience. But whenever I saw the ad, either on the platform or in the train, it always looked slightly off. Like with all the attempts to sell me heat, I suddenly wasn’t sure. The advertisers had only made me question which part of the sandwich was actually hot.
Is it the seasoning of the “diablo” chicken that’s hot because it’s spicy? Is it the chicken itself that’s served hot on top of cold sandwich toppings? Is it the whole sandwich that’s baked, or grilled? Is the bread toasted? Is everything molten and fresh from the oven? Looking at the photo of the sandwich in the ad, I really can’t tell. If you remove the added steam graphic, it looks as much like a cold chicken sandwich with a spicy dressing as it does anything else. But, now, it’s fallen through a tray because it’s heat has melted plastic, so does it look like a hot sandwich? Well, no. That’s fresh cut lettuce and sliced tomatoes, and that white sauce looks to be mayonnaise.
It took a few glances to figure out why I had the sudden revulsion to the ad. And then it struck me: the yellow background. Yellow is not a hot colour. It’s been made to represent warning and caution, but refuses to communicate heat unless it’s given license to by shape, like in a cartoon picture of the sun. It’s an attention grabbing colour which is why it’s used to command caution. It’s also used heavily for the “no name” brand labels stocking grocery store shelves: slow down, look both ways, put in cart.
Nowhere else on the subway car was yellow used in any way to sell temperature. Seeing it used to do so in the sandwich ad was pure incongruity. Yellow is calming, if anything. Yellow begs attention, caution, calm.
Yellow is neutral, that’s why we use it for both genders, for babies when the sex is unknown, for wall paint when the tone of the room is meant to convey emotional warmth, be bright, but be neutral. Yellow = relax, you’re okay.
Yes, the ad grabbed my attention, but my curiosity wasn’t directed at the product. If anything, I wondered how the ad could be improved. I struggled along with the team to find how to better depict the inherent idea of heat in the word “diablo” with a picture of a less-than-hot looking sub. If the background were made white, the effect of the steam would be lost. If the background were made red, the colour of the bold red letters wouldn’t stand out. If you make the background the same tone of yellow as the one used in the Subway brand, you risk over-saturating it, and might lose the weight of the brand (although I think matching the tone here might have worked out best and been easiest to adjust).
Perhaps showing the sandwich at all was the wrong move. Anyone who’s been a customer at Subway knows that, while the protein might be served hot, the toppings are all kept in cold, stainless steel tubs and salad dressing squeeze bottles.
Or maybe give the sleeve and corner of a Subway uniform and the crook of a model’s arm, outstretched, holding a red-hot pitchfork over a fire with the picture of the sandwich resting above the flames.
To my recollection, this ad was one in a series of similar ads. There was a form being followed with the yellow background and, I guess, one piece needed to showcase the sandwich. But, in all the attempts to convey the idea of heat, to me it feels awkward. I don’t quite see it, and I walk away smirking.