The news that Subway restaurant pitchman and famous weight-loss success story Jared Fogle might be linked to a child pornography case underscores the need for companies that leverage celebrity spokespeople to remain vigilant of their activities long after background checks are conducted upfront. Fogle has been a mainstay of Subway advertisements for 15 years, and founded the Jared Foundation in 2004 to encourage children to develop healthy habits of eating and exercise.
Let’s be clear. Fogle hasn’t been accused of anything, but he may never regain his credibility as a spokesperson. Even the hint of crimes against children can taint a person forever in the court of public opinion.
In May, the Jared Foundation’s former director was indicted on federal child pornography charges. Now it appears the investigation may be extending to Fogle, as authorities raided his Indianapolis-area home earlier this week. For its part, Subway has offered generally supportive but clearly wary statements regarding Fogle. It also went so far as to remove from its website a recent commercial featuring a cartoon depiction of Fogle’s weight-loss journey – perhaps an indicator the company is distancing itself from him.
Still, the red flag for Subway must have been raised pretty quickly once the former director was arrested and they were in a position to ask Fogle some pretty tough questions about his relationship with the accused child pornographer. Either they did so and got satisfactory answers from Fogle, or perhaps they decided to stand by Fogle and wait and see how things played out.
In either case, the Subway folks face some hard thinking about what to do next. On Wednesday, Subway posted a Tweet saying they had suspended their relationship with Fogle, but did not specify exactly what that would mean if the investigation eventually exonerates him. Should they just fire their longtime pitchman, who many see as a sympathetic figure and brilliant brand ambassador who has been a champion for people trying to lose weight, before all the facts are presented? Or should they stay the course as the storm builds around Fogle? It may not be an easy answer for a company that has so closely tied its brand to an individual spokesman who may now be in a heap of trouble.