- Nearly half (45%) of U.S. consumers say Subway should respect public sentiment and drop Megan Rapinoe as a brand ambassador, with 36% saying the brand should respect her opinions, per a Piplsay survey. The U.S. soccer star, who appears in Subway's latest ad campaign, is facing some backlash after kneeling during the Tokyo Olympics to protest racism.
- Consumers are split over whether protest against Subway over the controversy is justified, with 38% saying yes, 36% saying no and 26% not sure. The division is starker among gender lines, with 61% of men saying protest is justified versus 39% of women.
- The controversy comes amid Subway's ongoing efforts to transform its brand and is the latest example of a brand facing backlash due to the actions of its ambassadors. Two-thirds (67%) of U.S. consumers say their favorite brand's choice of ambassador matters either somewhat or a lot, but 47% would not do anything about it if the brand picked a brand ambassador they disapprove of.
Pipslay's findings suggest that brands face some sort of backlash if some consumers disapprove of their brand ambassadors, giving further evidence that navigating controversy stirred up by ambassadors can be tricky for brands. The row over U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe's decision to kneel with her teammates during the Tokyo Olympics to protest racism and discrimination mirrors what Nike faced with its brand ambassador Colin Kaepernick. While Nike ultimately saw record engagement and a sales spike after its campaign with Kaepernick, it's too soon to know how the Rapinoe controversy will impact Subway's bottom line.
Sentiment over whether protesting against Subway for Rapinoe's actions is justified was basically even. However, nearly half of respondents say Subway should respect public sentiment and drop her as a brand ambassador. Further complicating the situation, Piplsay's survey question suggests that Rapinoe kneeled during the National Anthem at the Olympics; while she has done so in the past, the kneeling happened just before kickoff at the Olympics.
Furthermore, consumers are roughly split over how much their favorite brands' ambassadors matter, with 35% saying a lot, 32% saying somewhat and 33% saying it doesn't matter at all. While a majority would either criticize the brand on social media, boycott the brand or both, 47% would do nothing.
Rapinoe is one of the five sports stars who appears in Subway's "Eat Fresh Refresh" campaign, which accompanies the chain's largest menu update in history. Some Subway franchisees and customers have complained to corporate leaders and stores, respectively, about Rapinoe appearing in the campaign, per a report by Business Insider. Adding to the backlash, some franchisees said the campaign is not driving additional traffic, per the report.
"For Subway, it really is just the beginning of our transformation journey and the "Eat Fresh Refresh" will continue as we continue to make improvements to our guest experience for years to come," CMO Carrie Walsh told Marketing Dive in a previous interview about the effort.
The Piplsay survey received 30,790 online responses from 18-and-over individuals and was conducted in the U.S. from Aug. 13-15.