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Selling power of the pigskin

By Frank Ahrens
The Washington Post

In the three weeks after Quizno’s Corp.’s first Super Bowl ad last year, the submarine sandwich chain had double-digit sales increases at its 1,447 restaurants, a number that has since grown to 1,988.

For Quizno’s, like many companies that bought ad spots during the Super Bowl, the marketing strategy is mostly Hail Mary — it’s a risky one-shot deal with a potentially big payoff. Last year, few knew what Quizno’s was before the Super Bowl, said Brooksy Smith, the company’s vice president for operations and marketing. The ad was a way to get the Quizno’s name in front of 43 million households and to kick off the year’s ad campaign, which carried the slogan, “Toasted tastes better.”

This year’s Super Bowl is being broadcast Sunday by ABC, a division of Walt Disney Co., which reports that fewer than six of the game’s 61 commercial spots remain to be sold. That’s ahead of last year’s pace, when a Fox-televised game struggled to fill its commercial slots nearly up to game time, as the depressed, post-9/11 advertising market was reluctant to pony up the $2.2 million asking price for a 30-second ad. Fox ended up discounting its commercial time, which ABC said it will not do.

The game will feature at least 30 advertisers, including the Warner Bros. motion picture studio, hyping its twin “Matrix” sequels; rival Internet job sites Monster and HotJobs.com; MyFico.com, a credit report company; Sara Lee Corp.-owned Hanes, which will team Michael Jordan and martial arts film star Jackie Chan; Pepsi, which is likely to roll out Destiny’s Child Beyonce Knowles as its new spokes-singer, bouncing Britney Spears; three ads from Sony Pictures and at least one from Sony Electronics; and AT&T Wireless Services Inc., which will follow last year’s baffling ads featuring belly buttons as a way to illustrate wireless connections. (Get it? Cut umbilical cords?)

The NFL rejected an ad from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, saying that league rules prohibit accepting any ad that refers to sports betting.

Question: If Quizno’s considered last year’s ad a success — a scenario in which a taste-tester asked to choose between competing subs got a blow dart in the neck — how does the company top it? Answer: This year, get some guy to “drop trou.”

The 30-second Quizno’s ad, set to air during the first quarter of the Super Bowl, was, like last year’s ad, produced by New York’s Cliff Freeman and Partners. Freeman, who will be remembered as the adman who spawned the Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” campaign, is the industry’s top practitioner of slapstick. In a Freeman ad, it is assured that harm will come to something, be it human or animal.

In this year’s ad, Quizno’s introduces Chef Jimmy: the real-life Jimmy Lambatos, who created the first menu for Denver-based Quizno’s. The portly, gray-haired Jimmy is seen in his home, as a voice-over tells viewers that he is monomaniacally focused on finding the best ingredients for Quizno’s subs, so much so that he lets slide other elements of his life.

To that end, he passes a dead bird in a cage, walks outside past an overgrown yard and so forth. The classic Freeman punch line comes in the kitchen of a Quizno’s restaurant, when Chef Jimmy turns away from the camera to reveal that he’s so single-minded that he’s forgotten to put on his pants. His tighty-whities-encased posterior is quickly covered by a Quizno’s sub, well-positioned by one of his mortified assistant cooks.

“That is Chef Jimmy’s actual underwear,” said Smith, the Quizno’s vice president. “We’ll be incorporating him into most of what we do this year.”

This year, the hope is to extend the Quizno’s brand and build on the year’s growth, Smith said. Or, as one Quizno’s spokeswoman put it: “This year’s ad goes deeper on message — to tell you why toasted tastes better.”