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Campaign Trail: Jersey Mike’s Subs Serves Up Authenticity with Danny DeVito

Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.

Pairing the right celebrity with a brand can leave an indelible mark on advertising and culture at large: Think Pepsi and Michael Jackson or Nike and Michael Jordan. For its first campaign with new creative agency of record Highdive Advertising, Jersey Mike’s Subs hopes it has found its perfect celebrity match… in Danny DeVito.

“It’s A Jersey Mike’s Thing” features an iconic actor whose half-century career has spanned films from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Batman Returns” to TV shows “Taxi” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Launched on Sept. 12, the campaign is running across TV, radio, digital and social channels, including four 30-second and five 15-second spots for broadcast and streaming that will roll out in waves into 2023.

The campaign spots utilize DeVito’s comedic skills to showcase how the chain’s subs are sliced and grilled fresh to order. “Emotions” sees the actor run through a span of reactions to a Jersey Mike’s sub — excitement, impatience, baby-like wonder — while “Listen Closely” toys with the sounds of sizzling, chopping and spatulas hitting the grill that are common in the restaurant. In “Dinner and a Show,” DeVito pulls up a theater chair and dons a tux and opera glasses to watch the process, while the product-focused “You Gotta See It” keys in on unusual diners.

But as the title of the campaign suggests, DeVito’s selection is more about his New Jersey roots: he grew up down the road from the original Jersey Mike’s location, and even named his production company after his home state. For a campaign intended to showcase the chain’s authentic Jersey-style subs, only a true New Jerseyite would do.

“Sometimes I think celebrities can be slotted in and out in campaigns — not this one,” said Mark Gross, co-founder and chief creative officer at Highdive.

This was a perfect fit: it was true to Jersey Mike’s, he’s an authentic Jersey guy, and it would be real and not shoehorned in there.

The Real Deal

The “It’s A Jersey Mike’s Thing” campaign grew out of a non-traditional pitch process that yielded Highdive the Jersey Mike’s creative account. The agency’s credentials and past work originally caught the brand’s attention, and the relationship developed naturally from the first meeting, Jersey Mike’s CMO Rich Hope said via email.

Highdive didn’t show the brand any creative until sealing the partnership, after which it presented several campaign options, with the Danny DeVito creative the only one to feature a celebrity.

“He’s the real deal — all about authentic, all about Jersey — and we thought he fit the brand really well,” Gross said. “We had no backup celebs. If Danny had said no, we would have chosen a different campaign.”

Thankfully for both brand and agency, DeVito — who has appeared in spots for M&M’s, QuickBooks and Discord, but is far from a ubiquitous ad presence — said yes. The actor proved to be a good collaborator, from the first Zoom call about the campaign through to the shoot.

“We were really efficient and he works quickly. The director was very buttoned up and we just really wanted to get as much content as we possibly could in those three days of shooting,” Gross said. “They were three jam-packed days with him, but we got it all done.”

Along with the four 30-second spots at the heart of the campaign, Highdive was able to shoot additional creative concepts with social media in mind. One uses windshield wiper goggles to fend off the squirts of oil-and-vinegar “juice” on a well-dressed sub, while another plays off a TikTok trend around a “pinched fingers” gesture — things that may work on social but not TV.

“To utilize the [social] space, it’s what’s quick — how can you get your message off in a short amount of time, how can you have more fun and do things you can’t do in the TV space — and just play into trends and what’s happening in the social space,” Gross explained.

Press materials note that Jersey Mike’s has a smaller advertising budget than its competition. With “It’s A Jersey Thing,” they’re betting that their cult following and authentic celebrity pairing (especially compared to the sports star-studded approach taken by Subway) can make the difference.

“I think it’s really a good product and differentiated from the sub shops out there [like] Subway and Jimmy John’s,” Gross said. “They really do a good job — and that’s not just being the ad agency selling it.”

This article was written by Chris Kelly from Marketing Dive and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

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