There is no shortage of literary and cinematic archetypes that seem a lot like Jared Fogle — until yesterday’s FBI raid at his home, Subway’s brand-making, drama-free, regular-guy spokesman. Even after the raid — believed to be related to the arrest of a former employee of Fogle’s foundation on child pornography charges — Fogle, who was not arrested or charged with a crime, stepped aside with no fuss.
Making no fuss, after all, is Fogle’s trademark.
“Subway and Jared Fogle have mutually agreed to suspend their relationship due to the current investigation,” a Subway spokesman said in a statement late Tuesday, as The Washington Post’s Sarah Larimer and Abby Ohlheiser reported. “Jared continues to cooperate with authorities and he expects no actions to be forthcoming. Both Jared and Subway agree that this was the appropriate step to take.”
Fogle’s representatives stressed that Jared has quite an appetite for cooperation.
“Jared has been cooperating, and continues to cooperate, with law enforcement in their investigation of unspecified charges,” Fogle’s attorney, Ron Elberger, said in an e-mailed statement to The Post. “He has not been detained, arrested or charged with any crime or offense.”
Somehow, the FBI’s interest in Fogle — why not just call him Jared? — only highlighted the (for now) suspended brand ambassador’s fundamental appeal: He is a blank slate. If this pitchman is leading a sordid double life — if he is a Bill Cosby, a Lance Armstrong, a Jerry Sandusky — it won’t just be unexpected. It will be a complete shock.
“Fogle is comparatively bland, which may be his secret,” Will Higgins of the Indianapolis Star wrote in 2008. “His persona is friendly, not funny; kindly, not abrasive. His charm is a kind of Johnny Carson-like insipidity that may not excite but wears well over time.”
Higgins saw Jared’s remarkable unremarkability as key to his success.
“Charmin’s milquetoast Mr. Whipple, remember, hung on for two decades,” he wrote.
Jared hasn’t hung on quite that long, but he is getting there. Introduced by Subway to the public in 2000, Jared, then a student at Indiana University in Bloomington, came to the fast-food chain fully formed: Once tipping the scales at 425 pounds, he lost 245 pounds in 11 months on a self-devised diet that he told virtually no one he was on until his sagging jeans made it obvious. Instead of braying his intention to lose weight to the skies, he took the nobler road of quiet struggle.
“I ate a 6-inch turkey sub for lunch and a 12-inch Veggie Delite for dinner, and I had diet soda and a small bag of baked chips or pretzels with each meal,” Jared wrote in a 2006 memoir called, appropriately, “Jared, the Subway Guy.” “I never put cheese, mayo, or oil on my sandwiches, just mustard, and I never snacked between meals.”
Were Jared’s experiment part of a peer-reviewed scientific study, it would be suspect. Jared’s results were self-reported; there was no control group; unless Jared tragically regained his weight, nearly tripling his girth, the experiment could not be repeated. Also, as has been pointed out, Jared’s success wasn’t necessarily related to the healthfulness of Subway meals, but to calorie restriction: He went from eating “more than 10,000 calories a day,” he wrote, to eating “a little over 1,000 calories a day.”
But sandwich sellers have no need for scientific studies.
“That story played a huge role in [Subway’s] growth,” Mary Chapman, the senior director of product innovation at Technomic, a market research firm, told the Associated Press. The New York Daily News summed up the Jared factor in 2013: “After his first national commercial — he has since filmed more than 300 — Subway’s sales shot up 20%. Overall, sales more than tripled to $11.5 billion in 2011, from around $3 billion in 1998.”
Chapman added: “It’s not just Jared the man, it’s what it represents.”
Yet “Jared the man” can’t easily be differentiated from Subway. While other brand ambassadors can be hard to manage — Tiger Woods shilled for Hero MotoCorp, but is a former golf superstar who enjoyed the occasional extramarital affair — Jared brings no such baggage to the table. His book and the media’s coverage of him before the raid tell a simple story: He was fat as a child, he got thin while eating at Subway in his early 20s, and he has been a Subway spokesman and health advocate ever since. Those who dig will learn a little more: He is Jewish, he has been (quietly) divorced, and he likes Dave Matthews. Even with the failed marriage, there is no O.J. Simpson here.
In a telling moment in his memoir, Jared, a young man still in college getting ready for his first big-time commercial, is sent to wardrobe.
“I needed the wardrobe department to supply me with ‘regular guy’ clothes, which looked pretty much like what I wore all the time,” he wrote.
Do not mistake Jared’s unrelenting vanilla style or totally unremarkable Twitter account for a lack of intelligence, business acumen or competence. He is reportedly worth $15 million; “South Park” episodes are written about him; he can work a crowd like Montel Williams or Oprah Winfrey.
But if Jared wants to parlay the fame he stumbled into 15 years ago into something else — an acting career, a talk show, a sponsorship deal with a higher-end brand that didn’t once use a weird shoe-elasticity chemical in its bread — that move doesn’t seem to be coming. Other food addicts — the late John Candy and Chris Farley, for example — were brilliant artists or performers. Jared is a brilliant … brand ambassador.
“If Jared was going to transcend his [role as] spokesman at Subway, it would have happened by now,” Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, told the Indianapolis Star in 2008.
Correction: A previous version of this post said Jared Fogle attended the University of Indiana. He attended Indiana University.