Sandwichmaker Subway has finally responded to international criticism that its footlong sandwiches only appear to be 11 inches long.
Subway’s reply won’t win them any new fans, as they claimed that the word footlong is a “registered trademark as a descriptive name for the sub” and “not intended to be a measurement of length”.
A man in Australia started uproar on Tuesday when he posted a photo on the company’s Facebook page of one of its footlong subs next to a tape measure showing the sandwich as just 11 inches.
Countless lookalike pictures appeared all over the internet and more than 100,000 people “liked” or commented on the original, which had the caption “Subway pls respond”.
The world’s largest fast food chain did so on Friday with a comment on the original query, posted by Matt Corby from Perth, Australia.
The statement began: “Looking at the photo doing the rounds showing a slightly undersized sub, this bread is not baked to our standards.”
Then Subway went on the offensive, claiming that a footlong sub wasn’t necessarily meant to be exactly a foot long in the first place.
“With regards to the size of the bread and calling it a footlong, <<SUBWAY FOOTLONG>> is a registered trademark as a descriptive name for the sub sold in Subway® Restaurants and not intended to be a measurement of length.”
“The length of the bread baked in the restaurant cannot be assured each and every time as the proofing process may vary slightly each time in the restaurant.”
Subway has since removed the statement but, as Buzzfeed points out, this is at odds with previous Subway advertising.
The company has suggested in past promotional material that the footlong sub will measure a foot in length, such as a popular 2008 “Hula” advert.
The Subway photo – and the backlash – illustrates a challenge companies face with the growth of social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Before, someone in a far flung local in Australia would not be able to cause such a stir. But the power of social media means that negative posts about a company can spread from around the world in seconds.
“People look for the gap between what companies say and what they give, and when they find the gap – be it a mile or an inch – they can now raise a flag and say, <<Hey look at this>>, I caught you,” said Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor Associates in New York.
Subway has always offered footlong sandwiches since it opened in 1965. A customer can order any sandwich as a footlong.
The chain introduced a $5 footlong promotion in 2008 as the U.S. fell into the recession, and has continued offering the popular option throughout the recovery.
An attempt to contact someone with the same name and country as the person who posted the photo of the footlong sandwich on Subway’s Facebook page was not returned on Thursday.
But comments by other Facebook users about the photo ran the gamut from outrage to indifference to amusement.
The Subway footlong photo is just the latest in a string of public relations headaches that were caused by a negative photo or event about a company going viral.
Last year, a Burger King employee tweeted a picture of someone standing in sneakers on two tubs of uncovered lettuce. Domino’s Pizza employees posted a video on YouTube of workers defacing a pizza in 2009. And a KitchenAid employee last year made a disparaging remark about President Barack Obama using the official KitchenAid Twitter account.