Way To D'oh!

Preamble (more like, pre-ramble )

A few technical/geek and general observations regarding a web-driven contest promotion developed for the Subway chain of stores.

General Disclaimer

The thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own and should not be interpreted as being strictly critical of Subway; I like Subway. I go there pretty regularly as a local store has a special buy two-for-three day every so often. Along with some large drinks and split between my roommate and I, our stomachs are often happily satisfied on Sunday afternoons.


OK, kind of fun. You get cards from Subway with a PIN # on them and get to then "play" the game of building a virtual sub after entering your PIN at waytodough.com. You get to choose kind of bread, type of sub and sauce, etcetera, and a chance at winning some cash. As the site says, "Build the Million-Dollar Sub."

In playing the game, you drag and drop things onto the sub and then click a button to move to the next station down the line (just like in the store.. the marketing type in you is likely thinking, "see 'branding' for reference.." - insert additional laughter here.)

Once you're done (you drag-and-drop the sub into a toasting oven at the end), there's a big dramatic drum roll sound effect and then an "awww" when a big "sorry, try again" message is displayed, saying you didn't win anything. At least, in my particular case.

The Best Sub Never Made.

I found that a funny bug in the game allows the building of a not-very-exciting sandwich. Italian Herb bun, onions and salt. Mmm.

You're not supposed to be able to "continue" down the line without making a selection (ie. I want a meatball sub, or a sweet onion chicken, etc.).. It seems I found a bug: check out this awesome sub I built. (Onions and salt on an Italian Herb bun, mmm... "Easy on the onions!", I was reminded as I put them on.)

A few things I found amusing about all this, coming from a technical perspective as well as thinking about the business side of things.


I think it's very cool that a creative firm somewhere was tasked with making this game in the first place (and with nice pixel-ish art, too.) I'd personally love to get the chance to build this sort of fun stuff.

One item I found to be particularly amusing, however.


The game has a small logic bug of sorts. I think if you choose some bread, then click on the top "your sub / instructions" menu at the top at the next step (photo again for reference), the "continue" button resets to being clickable after you've viewed this other menu.

Minor flash tech/geek note.

The developers didn't check your "choice" in this case, which they should have. "If the user has not selected the type of sub yet, do not enable the continue button when exiting this menu" would suffice. Ah well. Must've slipped through their QA.

The Rules of Engagement

What's also amusing is that on the Official Contest Rules page, the legal copy states that to play, you must provide "full name, address, postal code, telephone number and e-mail address and answer unaided, the mathematical skill-testing question". This doesn't seem quite right since I didn't remember any math question (perhaps that's saved for if/when you actually win something), as well as the phone number. Chances are the marketing guys said, "nobody will really give us their actual phone number, these kids are smarter (and more cynical) than that."

All I had to do was enter a name (I was creative) on the web site along with a postal code (again, creativity ensued,) and an e-mail address. "subway-had-better-not-spam-me@schillmania.com" was my first thought as I maintain all mail for this domain, but I digress.

Privacy Considerations

The more bothersome (but common practice) part is the way the site's Privacy Policy is sold on the entrance page. (Granted, it is important to put it in a prominent spot where information is being gathered, which they have done.) They market it smartly to their target audience, presumably teenagers:

"Okay, if you're going to win prizes, we'll need to know who you are. But don't worry; Subway restaurants never releases personal details to third parties."

Uh-huh. Reading the contest rules suggests that "third parties" may be defined pretty "openly", as there's a nice side-note in the rules:

"Upon your consent, the Contest Sponsor may use your name, address and email to send you information by email or regular mail about new products or services or upcoming promotions that the Contest Sponsors think may be of interest to you. In addition, entrants' names, addresses and emails may be made available to Subway restaurant Canadian franchisees and their respective advertising and promotional agencies whose products and/or services may be of interest to you. If you do not wish to receive notification about our products or services or if you do not wish to have your contact information made available to these third parties please check the applicable box on your entry form or contact us at subway (at) openminds.ca." (my emphasis. )

I do suppose Subway "and their marketing partners" are still within the definition of "third parties," as opposed to some random dude on the street a guy from Subway might approach. Imagine the following:

"Hey man, here's some aggegrate data consisting of 800,000 records of names, e-mail addresses and postal codes we got from a contest we just ran." *

- Random Subway Guy

* Apply liberal sarcasm, reconsider lightly; laugh.

Relax, it's a Game.

Before black helicopters start circling, allow me to clarify: "Companies are not all evil by nature, seeking to know every last bit of information about their customers." I merely find it amusing to occasionally debunk the fluffy "marketing-ese" and general BS that typically is associated with companies' offers getting users to "sign up" (a euphemism for "opt-in," in my opinion,) for things. Playing the information game, as it were.

And not that there's anything wrong with playing the game, it's just the roundabout way in which it's done that I find amusing.

It's neat that a creative firm gets to create a fun "build a sub" game in Flash with sound effects, animation and other stuff - but there has to be a logical business reason behind it, and in this case it's playing the information game. Subway (or their marketing arm) presumably wants more information on the people who buy their products, which really is not unlike the self-interests of any other company. It is smart thinking and aids in their marketing, which ultimately contributes to the success of their business.

Granted also there is a radio button on the sign-up page, in short "would you like to receive offers via e-mail", but I think that only covers the e-mail portion. It sounds like to prevent your information from being shared, you would have to e-mail the company running the contest and specifically request for your privacy. (Which I agree with from their point of view too, this is the benefit for Subway - ie., "what's in it for them," so you should be willing to trade a little.)

I'm not saying "Subway is evil", I like their stores. The local place has a "Buy two, get one free!" deal on Sundays, so my roommate and I have made a somewhat-regular habit of the thing.

Smart Marketing

I think it's interesting how companies market themselves to and obtain information from their customers, and this is a prime example. And a good one, too: It is unique and is one of the better "campaigns" I've seen. Usually I ignore these kinds of things, but this one piqued my interest because of the Web aspect, and because I like Subway. "Who knows," I figured: Maybe I'd end up building a winning sub!

Also of note, the contest appears to be run from a communications company with a Calgary address (based on mailing instructions for winning cards, printed on the back side.) Funny how lots of stuff seems to be based out of here.

Perhaps of concern is how much I realised I just wrote about a damn restaurant (assuming that's the correct terminology.) What is this, an attempt at keyboarding a less-cynical homage to Fast Food Nation or something? Am I going to stop going to Subway?


Alright, I'll have a Sweet Onion Chicken Teriaki on Italian. Lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers and pickles...