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Subway's Jared To Phone Dieters

Television viewers are used to seeing Subway restaurant pitchman Jared Fogle in their living rooms. Now the world's largest sandwich chain wants to put him on the phone.

Fogle, whose 245-pound weight loss has anchored the company's most successful advertising campaign, will be featured in recorded phone calls as part of a month-long promotion aimed at people who have resolved to lose weight in 2006.

"Some of them are just inspirational things. Maybe on Wednesday it's, 'Hump day can be a tough day,' or 'Don't let things at work get you down,'" Fogle said, describing his phone messages.

The quirky campaign, which Subway executives say is an experiment they might extend, also includes a weeklong hotline for customers to call and talk with nutritionists.

The promotion continues Subway's effort to brand itself as a healthy alternative to hamburgers. Though Fogle's phone calls will be more about motivation and nutrition than about Subway, the idea is to create an association with the brand.

"Getting people to eat better is both good for them and good for us," said Tom Seddon, CEO of the Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust.

Customers who want the daily calls can sign up online and specify a time of day.

"It's maybe that mid-afternoon snack attack or maybe you want that call before lunch," Seddon said.

With a Subway on nearly every corner, he said there's a good chance one will be nearby whenever the phone rings.

"If it's going to make people eat more sandwiches, better for us," he said.

Subway, a privately held company, has more than 24,000 restaurants in 82 countries. It posted $6.27 billion in sales last year.

Lisa Klein Pearo, a marketing professor at Cornell, said the Subway campaign is a gimmick that wouldn't work with a movie star. But she said Fogle presents himself as an everyman, a real person offering advice.

Seddon said he didn't know how many people would sign up but said he hoped it would be in the tens of thousands. That's far fewer than would see a print advertisement or television spot, but Pearo said the company is building stronger bonds with a smaller group.

It's a similar "opt-in" strategy that works for e-mail promotions, catalogues and other campaigns in which customers sign up to receive advertisements, Pearo said.

"Think about how valuable that audience is, that self-selects, 'Yeah I want to get calls from Jared.' That's so much more valuable than somebody who sees a newspaper advertisement," Pearo said.

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