Subway banks on Pele in a global ad push

The restaurant chain signs the legendary soccer player as a 'famous fan," hoping to add customers beyond the US.

By Aimee Picchi Jul 31, 2013 1:34PM

File photo of former Brazilian soccer player Pele on Feb. 8, 2012 (© Francois Mori/AP Photo)Subway Restaurants has rapidly expanded in part due to its savvy marketing, tapping sports icons and its most famous poster boy, Jared, who lost more than 200 pounds by eating the chain's foods. 


Now, Subway is hoping Pele, one of the world's most venerated soccer players, will help boost its appeal not only in the U.S. but at its global locations. 


Pele will appear in TV and print ads as a "famous fan," a role held by other sports icons such as swimmer Michael Phelps, speed skater Apolo Ohno and gymnast Nastia Liukin. The multiyear agreement comes as Pele's native Brazil prepares to host the 2014 Fifa World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.


For Subway, big business is on the line, given that Brazil is one of the company's fastest-growing markets, chief marketing officer Tony Pace told MSN moneyNOW. Subway currently operates 1,182 stores in Brazil, which Pace joked would reach 1,200 with the Pele announcement. The company declined to disclose the dollar amount of the marketing deal.(Jared Fogle will remain Subway's "most famous fan," Pace notes.)


"Our team in Latin America is doing a great job, and that area is growing," Pace says. "Pele resonates there, and clearly in the U.S., given the demographic trends, the Latino market is incredibly important."


Marketers spent $7.9 billion trying to reach U.S. Hispanics last year, more than triple the $2.8 billion spent in 2003, according to Advertising Age. 


Among the biggest advertisers are some of Subway's rivals, including McDonald's (MCD) and Burger King (BKW), which spent $107.7 million and $34.2 million, respectively, on Hispanic marketing last year. (Subway didn't rank on Advertising Age's list of the top 50 marketers to U.S. Hispanics.)


Hispanics make up 15% of visitors to Subway, according to data provided to MSN moneyNOW by market researcher Placed. But they're also 7% less likely to visit a Subway than the average U.S. consumer, the group found.


Subway is banking on Pele's popularity with a broader audience. Pace notes that the sports icon is a favorite of fans across the world. 


"There are lots of players who are the best on their team and wear No. 10," Pele's number when he played with the Cosmos, Pace says. "That's a tip of the cap to Pele, whether they are soccer fans in Europe or Asia."


Pele's ads will air in markets around the world, Pace says. What's the soccer legend's favorite sandwich? Subway says it's tuna on Italian bread, with lettuce and salt and pepper. 


Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.


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