$5 not-so-footlong leads to speculation of false advertising

photo illustration by Marcella Brooks Though human error may result in inconsistencies in sandwich size, consumers have filed lawsuits against Subway for falsely advertising the “footlong” as 12 inches when it is sometimes 11.

Do you ever find yourself craving a sandwich? Not an ordinary sandwich, but the most extravagant of sandwiches – the Subway “Footlong.” A six-inch sub would taste great, but not quite satisfy your monumental hunger. For many, a footlong sandwich is the right size and taste to fill your needs. But is it really 12 inches long?

Last month, a New York Post article by Kaylee Osowski and Natalie O’Neill reported that many customers complained that Subway footlongs were a measly 11 inches, not quite measuring up to the advertised length of a foot. The journalists purchased seven footlongs at different Subways in the New York metro area to test out the theory. Four of the seven did not meet the advertised length of a foot. Now Subway is stuck in the midst of lawsuits claiming false advertising.

“I think that the people bringing the lawsuits have a basis for their complaints,” said Katie Olsen, instructor of advertising. “The advertising industry is held to specific standards by different organizations and government bodies the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission the Federal Communications Commission – and because they are putting messages out to the public like that, somebody needs to make sure they are not misleading the public or deceiving the public.”

Since the story broke, Subway has pledged in a statement to make sure its footlong sandwiches are actually 12 inches long. However, an ABC News article by Katie Kindelan reported that a comment posted by Subway on its Subway Australia Facebook page stated that the “‘Subway Footlong’ is a registered trademark as a descriptive name for the sub sold in Subway Restaurants, and is not intended to be a measurement of length.”

Customers have questioned the business’ defense, pointing out that Subway cannot change the definition of a foot.

“A foot is a universal measurement that is used to describe 12 inches,” Olsen said. “It’s my opinion that the fact that they would trademark this word and say that it may or may not mean 12 inches is misleading. By trademarking it, they should take that seriously and try to adhere by what the common person understands as a foot for their sandwiches.”

Ryan Kearney, K-State alum and Manhattan resident, decided to test the 11-inch theory at the Subway restaurant located in the K-State Student Union. It turned out that the sandwich he ordered was indeed 12 inches long.

“I think the sandwiches should be close to 12 inches if that’s what they’re expecting,” Kearney said. “Especially since it says six inches for some sandwiches, that specifically says how long it is. You can say a ‘whole’ sandwich at some other places, but if you’re going to say a ‘footlong,’ it should be 12 inches.”

Not every sandwich may be created equal (or Subway may have cleaned up its act after the attacks from people across the globe), but one of the most curious aspects of this advertising scheme is a specific element of the franchise’s TV advertisements. Some of Subway’s earlier advertisements for the $5 footlong portray what appears to be a ruler and hands, insinuating that the length of the sandwich is 12 inches.

“They need to be very clear in their advertising and campaigns when it comes to the 11-inch thing because people associate a foot as being 12 inches – and nothing is more deceiving than showing the ruler with the hands,” said Tyler Goevert, junior in psychology. “If they do that, they should say that a foot is being determined by Subway to be 11 inches of sandwich.”

There is a lot of publicity surrounding Subway right now, and it does not necessarily bode well for the brand, Olsen said.

“We’re all talking about it,” Olsen said. “It’s created this buzz around Subway which is not good for them. They’ve trademarked this term ‘footlong,’ and motioning with the hands in the distance of a foot in a commercial is just reinforcing the idea that their use of the term ‘footlong’ represents what we know as 12 inches. So, if they’re going to assume that that is 9, 10 or 11 inches, then that is misleading.”