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All Hail the Quiznos Spongemonkeys

It’s just been one of those crazy weeks.

My new dog Daisy had surgery last week. She can’t keep still and wouldn’t stop biting her stitches after being spayed (earning her the nickname “Crazy Daisy”).

Then, my son had abdominal pains, sending us to the always fun emergency room. As awful as the ER is, hours of waiting to be seen do give you time to shift your mind to mundane things. This led to a discussion about coupons. And whenever the subject of coupons comes up, I sing the following in a goofy high voice: “Use any coupon…one dollar off…eat Quiznos subs…” My 19-year-old looks at me and says, “The Quiznos Spongemonkeys!!” To which I responded, “You know that campaign??”

My son was all of one-year-old when perhaps the most bizarre marketing campaign ever landed on TV screens. Two strange-looking creatures, one wearing a derby hat, and the other wearing a pirate hat playing the guitar, and singing about Quiznos Subs. There are less than 200 Quiznos locations left in the United States (down from a high of 4,700 locations in 2007), but I still think of it because of those stupid commercials. I love the dramatic pause before “They got a pepper bar” in this one:

Why in the world my teenager would know it is an entirely different story, however it makes total sense. If it’s something that captures Generation Z’s attention, there are myriad ways for them to discover it through memes on Reddit, videos on YouTube, and so on. We spent the next 15 minutes watching these commercials repeatedly and just giggling. That’s when it occurred to me…

The Quiznos Spongemonkeys were ahead of their time.

In 2004, people just didn’t get it. The humor was too out there, especially for a sub chain. But, as my son Lloyd put it, “If this aired today, my generation would be all up in Quizno’s. They’d be doing just fine.”

It’s always fascinated me that I still sing parts of a commercial that I felt barely aired. Like it was there, and then they were gone. And sure enough, the campaign lasted less than a year. How was it so darn sticky?

According to Trey Hall, Quiznos Chief marketing officer, in an interview with Slate, “the goal was to create a ‘dramatic’ ad that could compensate for their comparatively small advertising budget by catching viewers’ attention in a brief airtime spot. Featuring the bizarre, yet undeniably memorable, sponge monkeys in their ads would help them generate brand awareness and buzz around the sandwich shop.”

The lesson of the Quinzos Spongemonkeys is twofold.

One, the more limited your budget, the more you need to stick out. Quiznos understood this and created a memorable campaign. Unfortunately, the brand had deeper franchise issues that led to the company’s decline.

Two, in case you hadn’t noticed (Exhibit A: TikTok), Gen Z is quirky. Straight-ahead marketing campaigns that worked in the past may not have the same impact they did in the past. Who knew that an 18-year-old pirate hat-wearing monkey would do the trick?