From fast food to pop-culture - A content marketing study of Quiznos’ Toasty.TV platform

Written by: Lukas Morinder



Since the dawn of humanity, the art of storytelling has been of utmost importance. It has provided us with a knowledge pool, past on from former generations, enabling humans to understand their world as well as themselves. As stories were passed on from generation to generation they took part in the shaping of society and some of these stories live on to this day. But what was decisive in terms of deciding which story that were to survive over the years? Was it the morals or knowledge embedded in these stories? No, at least not single-handedly. Being relevant as well as compelling have, historically, been the main ingredients in the creation of a successful tale that stick in the minds of the listeners and/or readers (Zipes, 2012). Based upon this, one could argue that it is not the morale of final justice that makes the 16th century tale Cinderella so successful, but the way this morale is obtained and presented.  


Five decades after the original tale of Cinderella was written, storytelling, similar to the one in tales, have found its way into the corporate world (Lundqvist et. al. 2012). Nowadays, however, it is considered to be a part of a concept known as content marketing. Puluzzi (2012) defines content marketing as “the creation of valuable, relevant and compelling content by the brand itself on a consistent basis, used to generate a positive behaviour from a customer or prospect of the brand”. In other words, the brands of today need to think and behave like media companies. By doing so, they are more likely to generate a positive behaviour from current and/or future customers (Pulizzi, 2012).

The concept of content marketing has gained momentum during the last years as a way of adapting to the new digitalised marketing climate (Pulizzi, 2012). This digitalisation began in last decades of the 20th century and has empowered the consumers. The extent of this empowerment would eventually disrupt the entire former power balance between consumers and marketers. As marketers implemented direct marketing, consumers shielded themselves through e.g. new peer-to-peer media and search engines, leaving the companies, more or less, outside of the conversation (Deighton & Kornfeld 2009; Kietzmann et al., 2011). Traditional marketing, has seemingly lost is efficiency in todays digital landscape and might even be harmful, if used in an interruptive way, according to previous research (Acquisti & Spiekermann, 2011). Content marketing, on the other hand, has been presented as one possible remedy to the empowerment of the consumer. 

But how do you reach a consumer that does not want to be reached? What kind of lessons can be obtained from studying Quiznos successful content marketing strategy of moving away from traditional marketing in to pop-culture?

This paper investigates whether companies are able to use content marketing in order to engage their audience and, much like the tale of Cinderella, stick in the minds of their consumers by being relevant and compelling. In the first part the reader is introduced to a theoretical background around the concept of content marketing. The second part consists of a practical example where the American fast food chain Quiznos’ and their new platform Toasty.TV is analysed. In the end of the paper a conclusion section is provided. 

Is the Marketer becoming a Publisher?

Historically there has been an undisputed separation between professionals working with media in relation to those working in marketing. But according to Puluzzi (2012), this line is becoming increasingly blurry. This can, primarily, be explained by the fact that some of the main barriers that previously separated the two fields have vanished. The digital evolution, as discussed earlier, has played a large role in this sense. By providing us with platforms where content can be created, uploaded and distributed, the power of media is no longer in the hands of the few – but of the many. Companies, for example, no longer need to spend large sums of money in order to provide their audience with content through e.g. printed media or television (Lieb, 2012). The same holds for individuals. If you wanted to host a talk show a couple of decades ago you hade two choices. Either you started your own television network or competed with the other millions who wanted to be the next David Letterman. Nowadays, however, YouTube allows you to create your own channel in minutes, without spending a dime. 

According to Pulizzi (2011) the main thing, and arguably the only thing, that separates companies from traditional media publishers is the reason for publishing. Traditional media, such as newspapers, create and publish their content in order to earn money through e.g. paid advertising. Whereas companies, publish in order to keep current customers or to attract new ones. As described earlier, more or less everyone has the basic means of publishing content nowadays. This has led to a digital landscape that is both potentially lucrative as well as fickle, to say the least. Puluzzi (2011) exemplifies this by explaining that even though approximately 90 per cent of all companies have implemented content marketing in some form, most of them are struggling in terms of engaging their customers and prospects. 

Strategy + Storytelling = Engagement

So, the previous barriers in terms of publishing content are gone and most companies strive to make their voice heard in the new digital setting. But what is key in order to create compelling, relevant and engaging content? Redsicker (2011) proposes that companies should begin with asking themselves the following question:  

“What makes my brand so interesting that people will want to talk about it and share it with their friends?”

She argues that most companies fail in terms of attracting the attention of their audience, much due to their lack of strategy. Just being present one or a few platforms and randomly publishing content will get you nowhere – whereas a strategy can take you everywhere! Sure, you might get some traffic by randomly publishing interruptive content and there are some success stories in this area. Such as Procter & Gambles Old Spice ad “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”. However, this is not, even though many find it difficult to see the difference, content marketing. Instead, content marketing is about building long-lasting relationships between the company and its audience by providing them with content that is relevant, compelling and engaging and not centred around a brand or product (Pulizzi, 2013). The Old Spice competitor Dove and its “Legacy”-videos with its forceful message of female adults impact on their daughters, without any promotion of Dove products, is an perfect example of what content marketing is all about (Lazauskas, 2014).



Image 1: Old Spice ad. photograph (left - adapted from matiesmarketing244) vs. Dove Legacy ad. GIF (right - adapted from Isenberg Marketing) 

Dove has been very successful in terms of engaging their surroundings, customers and prospects alike. The reason? - A well thought strategy in combination with a compelling story. It all stems from the Real Beauty campaign that has been active for over a decade. Which in turn is based upon research from 2004, which showed that only two per cent of women would describe themselves as beautiful (Unilever, 2016).

Pulizzi (2012) has identified a total of six different behaviours affecting the quality of marketing content strategy. In order to answer the research question of this paper, a decision has been made to focus on only one of these, Opening Up New Content/Media Markets. In the following section, this behaviour is analysed through the American fast food chain Quiznos and their creation of the media platform Tasty.TV. 

Quiznos – Combining Sandwiches with Pop-culture

"We've been around for 30 years, and we were a big TV advertiser, we were a big print media advertiser. And, we just saw the returns on some of these campaigns diminish."

Those were the words of Tim Kraus, the Director of Interactive and Innovation at the American fast food chain Quiznos in an interview with the American magazine Entrepreneur in 2015 (as cited by Taylor, 2015). Kraus was being inquired about the company’s big leap in 2014, when they abandoned their former traditional marketing strategy. As described by Kraus, the lack of returns forced the company to rethink their marketing strategy. Along with their agency partner Windowseat they came up with a content marketing strategy that was based around three main questions: 

  • How do we get people to spend more time with the brand?
  • How do we get people to share our brand?
  • How do we grow our social engagement and foster on-going conversations with our customers?

The questions depicted above can, more or less, be summarised into the question earlier provided by Redsicker (2011) and these would lead to the creation of Toaster.TV. A new media platform that was built around the concept of: “serving up the Quiznos brand through engaging relevant and curated content” (Windowseat, 2016).

The new endeavour would prove to be very successful. Over the timespan of only six months, this new platform would generate 6.3 million views on YouTube, which was revealed during the VideoNuze Online Video Advertising Summit in 2014 (VideoNuze, 2014. 22:43). But what was the reason for Quiznos’ Tasty.TV success? 

Toasty.TV a Pop-Culture Platform

At the centre of Quiznos content marketing strategy we find their self-produced videos. Parodying famous and relevant TV-series and movies, such as Game of Thrones and House of Cards, proved to be successful and the content was well received by their target audience. The key was storytelling and Quiznos did not reinvent the wheel, they simply used the advantages of the digital landscape and social media. By parodying on the successful work of others, by utilising the fair use law, they managed to make these stories their own. In the long run, this would help Quiznos to reinvent themselves as a “cool” brand (Jarboe, 2015).

In addition to the videos, Toasty.TV allowed for further opportunities of storytelling, by including e.g. Art, Comedy and most notably Toasty on Tour. The latter is a music platform that, much like Harley Davidsons Harley Posse Ride, allows for a more intimate and personal level between the brand and its audience. Integrating these initiatives with an array of social media has allowed the brand to create valuable, relevant and compelling content on a consistent basis for its audience. Hence, strengthening the Quiznos pop-culture persona in the minds of the consumers (Singh & Sonnenburg, 2012).


Image 2: Toasty.TV Website Screenshot (Toasty.Tv)  

Over the course of a couple of months the company found themselves in the midst of the pop-culture conversation - Quiznos had become a cultural producer. Once a company holds this position, sharing the brand becomes a whole lot easier due to two reasons. Firstly, the power of culture is strong, since it helps companies to carry their message for them. Secondly, it is efficient, since the audience seem to be more susceptible towards messages being forwarded from peers, in comparison to corporate communication (Deighton & Kornfeld, 2009).

Lessons to Be Learned By Quiznos

With this paper, an attempt has been made to analyse whether content marketing actually should be the focus of attention in corporate marketing. 

After analysing the American fast food chain Quiznos and its content marketing through the Toasty.TV platform, I would definitely conclude that content marketing holds some merit. By thinking and acting as a publisher, Quiznos is no longer only a fast food chain. It’s a fast food chain and a pop-culture producer. By forming a solid strategy, providing compelling content through a new media platform, and combining it with storytelling Quiznos have managed to engage with a totally new audience. Therefore, Toasty.TV can serve as a best practice for companies striving to utilise content marketing in a cultural setting. This is based upon the fact that Quiznos earned the title as a cultural producer in the eyes of the public, which is a very favourable position. 

All in all, as portrayed by the case of Quiznos and Toasty.Tv, content marketing is displaying positive signs in terms of allowing the marketer to, once again, reach its consumers. 












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