Quiznos sponge monkeys revisited – Buzz isn’t enough

When I say Quizno’s "Spongmonkeys" odds are you know what I am talking about.  Considering the short time that campaign ran, that is a very effective demonstration in the power of creating a buzz.

In case you aren’t familiar… back in 2004, Quiznos launched a campaign starring some odd sponge monkeys created in the UK.  Apparently someone say the sponge monkeys, shared them with the agency (The Martin Agency) representing Quiznos and voila….buzz was born.

Here’s one of the spots, just to jog your memory.  (E-mail and RSS subscribers…click on the headline to see the TV spot)

But the little creepy creatures only lived a short while before the plug was pulled on the campaign. 


While the campaign had us all talking about Quiznos, it did not have us eating their food.  Their sales numbers were down.  The second and perhaps even more compelling reason is that the franchisees hated the campaign.  Although the restaurants’ target audience is 18-34 year olds and the spots were cewated with this audience in mind — they sort of forgot about the other critical audience, their own franchisees.  And most of them were over 35+ and have to live with people commenting on the campaign every single day.  And the comments weren’t pretty.

Would it have smarter to do a little market research and see if anyone had an adverse reaction to coupling food with rodents?  Yes.  Would it have been smarter to share the campaign with the front line franchisees, that can make or break a campaign’s success?  Yes.

The lesson for all of us?  Buzz for buzz sake is just not enough.  If the strategy isn’t sound and the key players are not on board, odds are not in your favor.

Put yourself in the Quiznos marketing director’s shoes.  You’ve launched the campaign.  People are reacting (both positively and negatively) with great emotion.  You are getting pressured to pull the plug.  What could you do to take advantage of the buzz on both sides of the fence?

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24 comments on “Quiznos sponge monkeys revisited – Buzz isn’t enough

  1. I miss the spongmonkeys. I never set foot in a Quizno’s before those wonderfully off-center ads put them on the map for me.

  2. Karin H. says:

    Don’t really know or recognise these spongmonkeys but I would make a whole lot of buzz of pulling the plug on it: last chance to see spongmonkeys, get your spongmonkey now before they disappear 😉

    Karin H. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

  3. Singing rat-things? Good buzz ain’t good eating.

    The original sponge monkey (I had no idea these mutant rodents actually had a name!) campaigns were arch, ironic and “anti-advertising” in their approach. While it did create a strong association in my mind between the rat-things and Quiznos that’s lasted for quite a numbers of years, it did not make me want to buy Quiznos or eat there.

    A for buzz-effect. F for sales-effect.

    Now ask me about the “Mr Bill” ads. Love those. 🙂

  4. Oh, Drew, I miss the sponge monkeys!

    I remember seeing the spots for the first time and thinking “What the…?” I’d honestly never been to Quiznos, but it really brought my attention to their brand (for good or bad). Shortly after, I visited my first Q-shop and have been a huge fan ever since.

    I agree, though. Maybe a bit of research would have been in order. Maybe that particular campaign could have been focused to the “online” and more trendy “genY” market… But the mass media approach may have been a little too broad… But just for the sponge monkeys.

    BTW, my 14-year old daughter still sings the commercial every time we drive by a Quiznos… effective?

    Great post!
    Keep Cooking!

  5. I actually liked those commercials. Funny. But I agree, buzz isn’t enough. It’s a common problem/perception out there. Agencies, or brands think they can just make “buzz” and it will convert into ROI.

    There’s a HUGE problem. Essentially, this is the basis for my book to be released in the Spring, so hopefully you’ll review a copy of it for me Drew? 🙂

  6. My college-age brother still does a dead-on impersonation of a singing Quizno’s sponge-monkey. That kind of buzz doesn’t come easily. As Andrew said, the buzz would be better if highly targeted just at the teen and 20-something age groups. Those grossed-out don’t need to see it!

    They could run a video contest where fans send in their home-made clips impersonating or incorporating sponge-monkeys somehow and give away a weekend trip to the X-Games, iPhones, a year of subs, or something applicable for the age group. That generates more buzz and viral YouTubing. Bring back the monkeys!

  7. Voltage says:

    I think they were just ahead of their time. If they ran today, and were marketed exclusively to the young demo, I bet these ads would pull.

    We’ve become more accustomed to weird randomness since 2004.

  8. Charles says:

    It seems like fast food companies might be a better match for buzz campaigns because people don’t usually go there for quality food. It doesn’t seem like using rodents in advertising hurts fast food. Remember Wendy’s raccoon commercials?


  9. Patrick John OMahony, Sr says:

    About using rodents in advertising.

    Think: Mickey Mouse

    That is an empire built on the image of a rodent.

    Patrick John


  10. Paul,

    And did your first visit go well and are you now a regular customer?

    I’m curious…how did the spots trigger your first visit?


  11. Karin,

    So….you’d make it a last tour sort of thing, eh?

    Would this TV spot inspire you to go eat at the restaurant?


  12. Roberta,

    I’m with you. Eating their food was the last thing on my list after watching these spots. I just couldn’t understand the concept behind them — beyond being odd enough to be remembered.

    Okay….the Mr. Bill ads are for what product/service?


  13. Jim,

    Agreed…many agencies are into the buzz. Sometimes, I think it’s more about THEIR buzz than the clients. It’s part of why our business gets all the bad rap that it does.

    Of course I’ll review your book. Send it on when you’re ready.


  14. Casey,

    Without a doubt, this would have been a popular viral campaign. Imagine being able to send a spongemonkey avatar to your friends!

    Some great buzz ideas!


  15. Jake,

    I agree…they’d be a much better play as a viral campaign.

    Do you think Quiznos should bring them back?


  16. Charles,

    You have a point there. I wonder if the fact that they specifically looked like rats made it worse?


  17. Patrick,

    Okay, but Mickey and the spongemonkeys have two very different personas and looks, don’t you think?


  18. Karin H. says:

    Drew, I’m rather ‘funny’ with restaurants: if I can’t get there on foot I hardly eat out 😉
    (So any commercial changing my ways must be extremely appetising – or included the offer of a free taxi ;-))

    (Although we live in a small village, plenty of choice to eat-out)

    Karin H

  19. Karin,

    How small of a village do you live in? How does that affect your business? Do people have to go out of their way to come visit your shop?


  20. Karin H. says:

    Hi Drew

    A rather small village, but very conveniently placed just off a main A road (and with two motorway junction 6 miles away each way).

    Do clients have to go out of their way to visit us? Yes and no. I rather would rephrase the question: do people want to go out of their way to visit us?

    Yes! 😉 Or that’s the feeling we get when we frequently welcome visitors to our shop who didn’t mind driving 1 or even 3 hours to see us.
    Now how’s that for a marketing result? 😉

    Karin H.

  21. Karin,

    Yes…it’s an amazing marketing result. But I can’t say I’m surprised. You consistently do all the right things for all the right reasons.

    Heck, I might drive over to get the full treatment!


  22. Karin H. says:

    I’ll make sure the coffee is ready then 😉

    Karin H

  23. Andrew says:

    umm ummm good! NOT I’m in the marketing biz, When I saw those ads I said what idiot approved them! Rats and food do NOT go together EVER unless your survivor man

  24. Andrew —

    I had the same reaction when I saw them!


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