The Marketing Power of a Great Story | Or How to Write Marketing Messages People Will Never Forget

By Ben Hart

Americans today are hit with more advertising messages than ever. According to some studies, the average American today is hit with more than 21,000 advertising messages per week.

So how do you make your advertising message stand out in the midst of all that noise?

How do you get your prospects and your customers to listen to what you have to say—to stop whatever it is they are doing and pay attention to you?

I’ll try to show you how by telling you the story of Jared.

You probably remember Jared from the Subway sandwich ad—Subway being the sub-shop chain. Jared is the guy who held up those pants with the 60-inch waist.

He’s the guy who lost all that weight by eating sandwiches at Subway. So let me fill in a few more details about Jared.

Jared had a terrible weight problem. He weighed 425 pounds when he was a junior in college.
Jared’s father was very worried about him. His father kept warning Jared that he might not live past 35 if he did not bring his weight down.

Jared eventually decided he was going to try to do something about his weight. He stopped his junk food diet and started eating turkey sandwiches at Subway.

Jared noticed he started losing weight. In fact, he was losing weight quickly—often a pound a day.

After three months of eating at Subway, Jared lost 100 pounds. His weight dropped to 325 pounds—a point when he could start going on walks. He continued his subway diet and combined this with long walks.

The weight continued to come off. Jared got his weight down to 180 pounds.

A writer for the student newspaper (and Jared’s dorm mate) wrote an article about Jared’s phenomenal weight loss. The article had before-and-after pictures of Jared and described Jared’s life as a 425-pounder.

Jared did not choose his classes based on the subject or the professor. Jared picked his classes based on whether the class had seats he could sit in. When Jared parked his car, he had to make sure the space next to his was empty so he could open the door completely and get out of the car.

Then the article described how Jared started eating at Subway every day. The article ended with a quote from Jared that said: “Subway helped save my life and start over.”

Then the magazine Men’s Health picked up the story, but did not specifically mention the Subway fast-food chain—just that Jared starting eating turkey subs.

The owner of a local Subway saw the story and passed it on to the Hal Riney Ad Agency that was handling the Subway advertising account.

Barry Krause, the president of the ad agency, decided it was worth checking the story out. He sent an intern to Bloomington, Indiana, to see if she could track down the guy who lost 250 pounds by eating turkey club subs.

Remember, the account in Men’s Health never mentioned the Subway chain in the article.

All they knew was this guy had lost 250 pounds eating turkey subs. It did not take the intern long to find the only sub shop in town—which, sure enough, was a Subway.

The intern described the story and asked if they knew anyone like this.

“Oh, yes, that’s Jared,” the employee said. “He eats here every day.”

The intern went back to the ad agency victorious with the news. “Jared is real! And he lost all that weight eating at Subway!”

So Barry Krause called Subway’s marketing director to tell him the Jared story. But the marketing director said “Nah, that will never work. People don’t go to fast-food places to lose weight and get healthy.”

But Krause was convinced the Jared story was a winner. He offered to make the ad for free—and test it in a local market.

The first ad ran on January 1, 2000. I’m sure you remember this ad—a smiling 180-pound Jared standing there with a pair of his old trousers that had the 60-inch waist and talking about how he had lost 250 pounds by eating subs at Subway.

The ad was a sensation.

Oprah called and wanted to have Jared on her show to talk about the Subway diet. Feature articles on Jared’s triumphant weight-loss with the Subway diet ran in USA Today, the New York Times, and newspapers and magazines around the globe.

ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox all did stories about Jared. And what do you think this did for Subway’s sales?

Well, instead of growing at a rate of about 5% a year, Subway started growing at 18% a year. There are more Subway shops now than McDonalds restaurants in the U.S.

The big reason: the Jared ad campaign.

What was it that made this ad campaign so successful?

This amazing story—the story of how Jared lost 250 pounds and changed his life by eating at Subway.

What are the elements of the Jared story that make it stick in people’s minds?

I believe it’s these six elements:

1) First and foremost, it’s a story.

People are genetically wired to start listening when a story is being told. Kids love to hear stories.

2) It’s a story that taps into our emotions.

The best stories are about an underdog overcoming some great obstacle—David versus Goliath being the classic example. The Jared story is a great David versus Goliath type of story.

It’s also a story about someone overcoming a serious problem that many people have—a weight problem. But even if you are thin, you can identify with this story because you probably have other challenges in your life you would like to overcome.
The Jared story is inspirational and motivational. People say, “Yes, I can identify with this story.”

3) Its message is simple.

The simple message is that you can overcome your weight problem if you take relatively easy steps to control what you eat. You can lose weight simply by making it a point to eat good-tasting, low-fat subs at Subway. The story follows the pattern of an Aesop’s fable. It has a moral.

4) The facts are surprising.

The big surprising fact about the Jared story is that you can lose weight by eating fast food. Surprising facts stick in our minds.

5) The story is credible.

It’s credible because it’s about a real person. Anyone can find Jared and talk to him. Jared appeared on Oprah. Every major news media outlet did stories about Jared. The facts of the story are not in doubt.

6) The details are concrete and specific.

Who can forget Jared in that ad holding up that enormous pair of pants with the 60-inch waist? Who can forget the sad photo of Jared weighing 425 pounds—contrasted to the smiling, happy 180-pound Jared in the Subway ad?
That’s how you make a Subway sandwich interesting.

You might think subway sandwiches are a pretty boring topic. Not many more inherently boring topics than that. But we just made the topic of the turkey sub very interesting, didn’t we?

The fact is, there is no such thing as a boring subject. Just boring writers. Just lazy writers. Just writers without the imagination to make their subject interesting.

In addition to Jared, one of the heroes of this story is Barry Krauss, the ad agency executive who recognized that the Jared story was potentially a gold mine for Subway.

He did not even know at first if Jared was losing all that weight by eating Subway sandwiches.

But he thought it was worth checking out—sending that intern to Bloomington, Indiana.

Even if Jared was losing all that weight not by eating Subway sandwiches, but with some other turkey sub, maybe something could still be done with that.

Barry Krauss just saw that this was a great story. He wanted to get the details—even though he did not know if he could use the story.

Then after he got the story and found out Jared was eating Subway sandwiches, he then had to overcome that marketing director at the Subway headquarters who said “Nah, it will never work. People don’t eat fast food to lose weight.”

So Krauss made the ad for free—just so he could test it.

So that’s a story within a story—with a similar moral about persevering, overcoming obstacles, and pursuing what you know is right.

Barry Krauss, that ad agency president, knew the value of a great story.

And he knew how to spot a great story. That’s why Barry Krauss is the president of a big ad agency.
So what’s the moral for you?

You need to be on the lookout for great stories. You should be talking all the time to your customers to find the stories about how they are using and benefiting from your product or service.

When you find a great one, take a video cam and do an interview with your happy customer. Get all the details on all the great things your product has done for your customer. Then put the video on your website.

And notice one of the key elements that makes the Jared story great: There’s a lack of hype.

Jared just tells his story. It’s factual.

What makes the story interesting are the details. That’s what great testimonials can do for you.

A great testimonial does not say how great you are or how fantastic you are. A great testimonial just tells a story—a story about how your product has changed the life of your customer.

If a great story can be told about a turkey sandwich, I’m sure your customers have great stories to tell about your product or service.

But you’re going to have to find them. You’re going to have to do some digging.

Yes, you are going to have to get out there and—heaven forbid—actually talk to your customers.

So often business people and even professional marketers treat their testimonials as an afterthought. But a great testimonial in the form of a great story, a factual story—like the Jared story—can be the entire focus of your marketing campaign.

All you really need is one great story. You don’t need lots of testimonials. Of course, a lot of testimonials is good. But even more powerful for your business is if you can find just one spectacular story that shows what your product or service has done for a real person.

Is the Jared story a long story?

No, the key elements can be told in a 60-second TV ad. It’s short and powerful as acid. It sears a hole in our brains. It’s a story we can’t forget.

It’s the Jared story that has helped Subway generate billions of dollars in sales.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.