After an intentionally quiet 2020, Jersey Mike’s restarted its marketing engine in 2021 with the return of its signature Month of Giving, a campaign that takes place each March to raise money for local charities. In 2022, the company signed on as sponsor of the Special Olympics USA Games.
Both were huge successes, which inspired the company to get back into a regular activation cadence. Jersey Mike’s recruited a new agency – Chicago-based Highdive – to “amp things up a bit,” according to CMO Rich Hope, describing the agency as “a very creative, smaller firm that truly believes in humor.”
That humor piece was new territory for the sandwich chain.
“We tended to have a conservative approach," Hope said during a recent interview. "We had some funny spots ready to go before the pandemic, and finally had everyone convinced that a little humor could be good for the brand, but it was sabotaged by Covid."
Highdive also frequently leverages celebrities, and Jersey Mike’s didn’t want to tread in those waters. During its presentation to executives, the agency slipped in a Danny DeVito spot anyway, and it garnered a favorable response.
“The unbelievable thing about Danny is he appeals to a wide variety of audiences,” Hope said. “I watched the spot at home with my wife and my youngest and my mother-in-law – so ages 18 and 88 – and my mother-in-law said she loved Danny DeVito because he’s so funny. My youngest called him the ‘GOAT’ and said he’s the funniest guy on 'Sunny in Philadelphia.' It made me think maybe we have something here.”
The DeVito ads broke in September and Hope said they have driven both sales and awareness for the brand. Jersey Mike’s examines these metrics through what it calls a “bread count.”
“We can talk about sales, but sales in 1980 and sales in 2023 are very different animals,” Hope said. “You can count how many loaves of bread you’ve pushed out a store, however. That’s the age-resistant metric we’ve used.”
As such, Jersey Mike’s bread count increased “significantly” since September and has held steady at that higher level since.
“Bread count went up, which means transactions went up,” Hope said, noting that transactions so far this year are up 7% and last year they were up about 5%. Meanwhile, awareness percentage has increased by about 8 points, he said, adding that DeVito has resonated with Jersey Mike's broad audiences without compromising the brand's menu.
“The brilliance of Highdive and these spots is they understand we’re selling a product and they let the product be the star. Danny delivers the message, but the star of our ads is our fresh grilling and fresh slicing – those things come to life when Danny’s saying them. I believe it’s brought in a lot of new customers,” Hope said.
That said, Jersey Mike’s has also continued, and ramped up, its proven sports and philanthropic marketing efforts. Last month, for instance, the company signed a deal with the NHL, marking its first sponsorship of a professional sports league. The agreement provides the chain with exclusive marketing rights and broadcast exposure during the regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs. It also has partnerships with dozens of NCAA schools in Power 5 conferences, Esports organizations, Thursday Night NFL and several Major League Baseball teams.
“We hung our hat heavy on college sports and wanted to build that out first. We started with seven universities in 2014 that were strategically located throughout the country, and we now have over 50 Division I programs we partner with for football and basketball,” Hope said.
Sports activations have generated big returns for the brand – usually four to 10 times the cost of the sponsorship, Hope adds.
“If [New York Yankee] Aaron Judge hits a home run over our signage in the outfield and that play runs on [ESPN’s] SportsCenter 20 times, that’s a home run for us,” he said.
These types of activations have grown as the company has grown. In 2014, when the company first started buying national ads, it had about 1,300 restaurants open and under development nationwide. Now, there are nearly 2,400 locations in the system. Metaphorically speaking, Hope describes Jersey Mike’s marketing strategy as a lasagna.
“If you look at our marketing program, it’s been more of an evolution than a revolution. We’ve been able to grow our budget through growing same-store sales and units. All that contributes to that fund, and I’ve always looked at it as a giant lasagna where we continue to add layers and layers to the program,” he said. “Not only are we buying more layers, we’re making the layers thicker.”
That means growing from seven to 14 to 50 college football teams. It means expanding from three music festivals to five with live performances on the Jersey Mike’s trailer. It means experiential and digital and social and sponsorship marketing alongside the chain’s signature philanthropic campaigns like Month of Giving and Feeding America. And it means exploring humor and celebrities. The ultimate objective is to reach as many different people as possible.
“There are so many niches in marketing now and so many additional ways to reach people and every new way is becoming more fragmented, so you have to work within those niches,” Hope said. “We’re a food brand, which means our guests range fully, especially from the 25-to-55-year range. You can focus on certain demographics over others, and some brands do that and are very, very successful. But for us, we try to be America’s sandwich and we want to appeal to everyone.”
Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]