Quiznos fails across all our BRAIN FRIENDLY BRANDING® pillars, and now finds itself filing for bankruptcy, while Chipotle soars to the top with Authenticity at the heart of its brand.

At MKBG, we applaud the virtues of great brands and their ability to generate instinctive appeal. Authenticity is first on our list of essential 7 BRAIN FRIENDLY BRANDING® Pillars – a vital first step to creating lasting brand appeal – but Authenticity must be earned if it is to be believed.

A great example of the Authenticity Pillar in action can be found in the restaurant business. Let’s look at how Quiznos stacks up against Chipotle.

How does Quiznos compare to Chipotle in the Authenticity Pillar?

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle Mexican Grill has been consistent in its mission, which is a quest for wholesome and sustainable food. Chipotle’s branding campaign is a populist assault on the industrialized faking of food. Last September, they released their second animated music video, The Scarecrow, with its hauntingly beautiful lyrics sung by Fiona Apple (“Pure Imagination”) extolling the values of naturally sourced food. After a day on YouTube, their video had already been seen by 450,000 people.

With rousing Consistency (BRAIN FRIENDLY BRANDING® Pillar #3) in its environmental messaging, Chipotle has created a call to action for those of us who want to participate in a healthier, more sustainable world. It pits Chipotle, with its soulful message, against powerful agribusiness interests that value profit over good food, health and sustainability. The proof of their stance is found in their healthy ingredients; their customers know it and they’ve been smart enough to give Proof Points (BRAIN FRIENDLY BRANDING® Pillar #7) through their Food With Integrity (FWI) campaign. With combined strength across the other pillars, Chipotle’s intrinsic BRAIN FRIENDLY BRANDING® appeal is as robust as can be.


Quiznos has been digging itself into a hole over the last seven years. They fail in every BRAIN FRIENDLY BRANDING® Pillar. Unlike Chipotle’s heartfelt scarecrow character, who represents our deep desire to live a healthy life through good food and good values, Quiznos launched one bust campaign after another, most famously in 2004 with their disturbing “spongemonkey” videos – featuring unappealing talking “monsters” that had the exact opposite effect of creating desire for the brand. The association of those scary monsters selling Quiznos subs probably did more corrode to the long term appeal of the Quiznos brand than we’ll ever know. Needless to say, the ad campaign was finally pulled, but the damage had been done. For far too long, Quiznos has lacked the enterprise, wit or will to build any sort of Authentic differentiation, either through promise or product to meaningfully distinguish themselves from their stronger competitors Subway and Chipotle.

What’s most telling, and certainly most self-destructive, was Quiznos’ apparent longtime intention to gouge its own franchisees. Inauthenticity tricked down from the top, and word of mouth spread in the national media. A tsunami of lawsuits followed, accusing Quiznos of adding significant hidden mark-ups to the food, paper and other supplies that franchise owners were contractually obligated to buy from Quiznos. So far Quiznos has had to fork over about $95 million in settlements. No successful franchise betrays its own franchisees. There’s no lower level of inauthenticity than that.

The Result?

Quiznos, in the sandwich restaurant business, is reportedly filing for bankruptcy after a spectacular 12-year tail-spin.

Chipotle? Revenue increased 20.7% to $844.1 million from 2012 to 2013.

In an earlier blog about Patagonia, I equated “essential essence” with my first brand-building pillar, Authenticity. Like Patagonia, Chipotle’s passion, history, and purpose is passed on to us in every interaction we have with them. Chipotle is staying true to its mission and original aim to create healthy food and a sustainable environment. It makes us feel smart, good, and healthy to dine with them.

Quiznos, on the other hand, makes me feel like a spongemonkey.


Megan Kent founded the Megan Kent Branding Group in 2013. Having held leadership positions at many of the most highly respected advertising agencies in the industry (Chiat/Day, Riney, Fallon, TBWA Chiat/Day, JWT), she’s developed game changing strategic platforms and go-to-market plans for brands such as BMW, Coca-Cola, Nikon, The New York Times, Sotheby’s, Clinique and Microsoft.

Megan’s greatest passion is creating desire for brands – she’s developed a proprietary branding approach dedicated to doing just that. Her BRAIN FRIENDLY BRANDING® is designed to give clients the ultimate competitive advantage by using the latest findings in behavioral and brain science to help companies create the most powerful emotional connection possible with their customers.

Follow Megan on Twitter @megkentbranding