Subway: The $5 Racists?

Subway’s new campaign for their $5 subs allows you to send custom emails and text message from an Abe Lincoln $5 cut out, fashioned with a green sweat band around his head that says “Home of da $5 Footlong”, big shiny “bling” in his ear, a shiny dollar sign pendant around his neck and oversized aviator glasses.

Below, see the marvelous (and by marvelous I mean marvelously horrendous) email I was able to put together to send to my friends and family:


I’m ‘bout to destroy a $5 Footlong at SUBWAY. That deal’s so tight you’re gonna buy me lunch.

Oooh, here’s another gem that was put together and sent to me:

‘Sup Boo,

I’m ‘bout to destroy a $5 Footlong at SUBWAY. That deal’s so tight you’re gonna buy me lunch.

Click Here to See the Email In Action

Then all you have to do is click on the “Preview your Holla” button to watch Abe say it… Oooh, goody…only I think I’m going to be sick. I mean, Really? REALLY!?

According to subway, their everyday value is “somethin’ to holla about”. I think that I’ll only be hollering at the blatant stereotypes in this new campaign. I mean, how does this get from concept to launch without a single person raising their hand and saying “I think this might be a bad idea?”

Think I’m making this up? Check it for yourself:

And then “Holla Back” at Subway your comments:



free slots says:

It's just a stereotype. You hear people of all colors use that gangsta slang, and it sounds ridiculous no matter who says it.

free slots says:

It's just a stereotype. You hear people of all colors use that gangsta slang, and it sounds ridiculous no matter who says it.

Jabba says:

Racist? Don’t be ridiculous, and please remember that there are many other people in this world who speak like that, regardless of race. It’s a stereotypical thing, and part of our modern world.

As many people have already pointed out, if it had been a characitured chinaman offering you a Sub with an amusing accent, do you think China would be up in arms about it all? No.

Get over yourself. This is inclusion. We all get little jokes thrown at us by popular media, and you have to be prepared to accept it in good spirits. Subway are clearly not embarking on a campaign of racial hate.. it’s a JOKE.

This is exactly the reason that racism and discrimination still happen across the world. Non-black people are afraid to come into contact with a black person (or even mention the colour black around them) for fear of being branded a racist.

I’m going to have to stop reading this blog before I give myself a hernia.

Stella says:

Subway must have removed the Abe Lincoln e-mail ad. I could not find it after following your link and going through their site.

If they have removed it, it would indicate that they knew it could touch a nerve but just wanted to see how far they could push the envelope.

Raulito says:

You folks need to stop being so sensitive. It was funny because it is making fun of how ridiculous and artificial the hip hop culture is and how commercialized it has become. You really have to try and speak like that, like a total moron that learned English on the corner next to a 7-eleven.

D. says:

The one with the asian laundrymat worker was racist as well.

Crazy Old Cracker says:

I had never seen this ad before. It has nothing to do with race, and is all about hip-hop subculture. There are tons of white kids who dress and talk like this; there have been for years, even in places where there are hardly any black kids, like Idaho. Thanks to the internet and cable, hip-hop culture is ubiquitous. Don’t believe me? Visit Spokane, Boise, or Salt Lake, and see for yourself! Hip-hop isn’t “black” anymore, it’s mainstream and is replacing country/redneck as the subculture of choice for a new generation of white trash. Check out all about the 623, or all about the 909. Those are the folks Subway is targeting with these ads. Yee-haw! Holla Back!

christy says:

Thank you Lynne D. Johnson!
You hit the nail on the head….”we” can talk like that to one another but as soon as someone wants to market the “lingo” and sell subs then its racist? I don’t think so.

Tony Barnes says:

I agree with Lynne Johnson’s apt comment that the widespread teenage (black and white alike) addiction to rap and associated behavior (falling down pants etc) has created a stereotype in the minds of many white people that causes them to avoid contact with African-Americans, and thus lose opportunities to reach across the racial divide. As to solutions, I have no idea. I am confident, however, that our new President will be the standing tall icon that so many of us who voted for him expect him to be, and our chidren may even take notice.

Gregg says:

It’s not racist. It’s just what they think is hip hop. Take a chill pill!

Miles Ellison says:

There are a lot of black people watching the minstelsy on VH-1 and BET, and there are black people producing it as well. Before black people get up in arms about this kind of thing, they need to reassess what they consider entertainment. If you support offensive cooning in the multiplex and on TV, you have no right to complain.

B247 says:

After reading many of the preceding comments my belief is reinforced that people who claim that a race card is being played are themselves, more often than not, harboring racial animosity. That said, I my view the subway campaign in question is of the same kind of racial slur that many ethnic jokes are. It like them plays upon disparaging stereotypes of various racial or ethnic groups for the sake of ridicule. Another example of this kind of humor is the PSP “Hells Yeah” commercial
in which mannerisms identified predominantly with one particular group can serve as an alias for that group as with an epithet.

While I’d like to respond to all of the comments there are two that seem most representative of all the others.

“I just don’t get why we always have to resort back to racism, can’t we just get over it already?”

I wish we could get over racism and ignorance and poverty and disease…etc. But while these problems still exist we should continue to oppose them. There are many peer reviewed studies which provide objective evidence that disparities in: longevity; infant mortality; income; morbidity; unemployment; percentage of families which are single parent and many other measures of health and social mobility, are in large part due to various forms of racial discrimination (though you may not define all forms of racial discrimination as “racism.”)

“I wonder if the OP considered that it might be the street culture that is derogatory.”

The phrase “street culture” is implicitly an oxymoron since the “street” is an environment largely devoid of respected (stereotypically middle class culture and values associated with stable families of productive and socially responsible and literate college bound children.) “culture.” we are rarely talking about suburban streets. For me, the combination of “street culture” with ebonics eg. “da” instead of “the”, is a tip that this campaign has a racial slant.

I think we should all be more careful about presuming to tell another person or group what they can or should be offended by.

Robin says:

I did not find the Abe Lincoln ad at either of the links provided.

New Age says:

Sorry, forgot to say, Holla Back

New Age says:

Racist? Seriously? I for one am sick of people pulling the race card so quickly when it comes to campaigns like this one. People who cry ohhh its so offensive to black people. Well I hate to break it to whomever is crying out but the urban community has grown beyond just African Americans. While the influence for the Urban society has spawned from the African community it has not rested there. It seems to me that people who pull the race card so quickly, especially about something that is just to try and create some buzz for a company, can result in such outcry is simply absurd.

Diane says:

First of all, I would like to comment on Jackass’ comment. If a black man came up with that idea, he is feeding into the idea that white people have about black people. There are some black folk that don’t get it either, because they have been so indoctrinated into seeing black people as white people do.

We all know that although different races of youths have adapted the hip hop culture, this ad was more than likely aimed @ the black race.
This is a stereotypical depiction of black people (black youths in particular) and it probably came from the image of the black youth that hip hop & rap has portrayed.

So actually, we shouldn’t be surprised that businesses appeal to the new generation in this form, this is what the media shows them. Therefore, I don’t think they meant to offend anyone, they actually though this was a good idea or they would have not done it. But maybe with the kind of reaction & responses they are getting, they will reconsider their ad & try to come up with an ad that would really accomplish their objective–to sell “more” subway sandwiches.

PERCH says:

Here’s my thing. Each and every time a large corporation creates an edgy, new-age ad for campaign, someone is upset. Most of the time, it results in someone crying racism. I just don’t get why we always have to resort back to racism, can’t we just get over it already? I highly doubt the executives that approved this ad were thinking for one second that it would come off as racist, they are smart enough to believe that the intelligent human being is beyond that. There will always be those that have nothing better to do than find out what they believe to be racist about this country and complain about it. Unfortunately, that is mostly what keeps “racism” around, easily offended minorities talking about it. We are on the verge of electing a black president, not because he is black and deserves a chance, but because he is the best candidate and seems to be on the side of the middle class AMERICAN. I am just so tired of hearing how “this is racist” and “that is offensive to minorities”, let’s just stop talking about it as if it doesn’t exist. It would have a better chance of going away than if we cry racism every time an advertisement, a speech, a music video or song, comes out that is geared toward the rap generation.
I attended high school with 1900 students, and was a HUGE melting pot of all different people from every kind of race, wealth, sex, religion and don’t ever remember having any issues with racism accusations. Why is that? WE DIDN’T CARE. WE ALL GOT ALONG AND JUST WANTED TO GRADUATE. That was our parents and grandparents generation. I never cared what color someone was, I judged them on what they stood for. and where I’m from, it’s not an issue. It’s discussions like this that keep racism alive and well, feeding the public any excuse it can to accuse someone of foul play. Thanks for reading;)

LEROY says:

YO Dog!! Dis DA BOMB FO’ Shizza Mu Nizza!

LEROY says:



why is this racist? it is not. once u find out this was a black mans doing in the advertising dep. it’ll be ok.

Kenny B says:

too funny.

if you don’t like the language maybe someone should talk to the kids who speak it all day long all across the country. But no, accuse Subway of being racist. It’s not just black kids who speak this way. This type of language and images have permeated throughout the current youth culture. Apparently Subway thought the market segment was important enough to specifically target.

Jade said: For me, at the very least, I am happy that this has provoked some discussion. My real hope though is that, moving forward, Subway and companies like them, just do better ads.

Yes Jade, maybe subway will do some better ads and maybe your feathers won’t get rufftled again, but we’ll still have millions of kids talking that way. I saw the ad on AOL first and the OP said “…basing its latest sandwich promotion on derogatory stereotypes of urban street culture”. I wonder if the OP considered that it might be the street culture that is derogatory.

Shannon says:

his is Ludicris!(Wait is that racist?) Ya can’t win for losing…

I mean if you do something like this, then black folks think your picking on them…when you might just be embracing their culture.

If you don’t do something like this, then the black folks are screaming about how it’s a white man’s world and it’s just not right!

You just can’t have it both ways…and personally as a young “white” women from generation X….Many people talk this way and dress this way now. Both White and Black, as well as other races. It’s the ways of America’s Youth!

I personally like the add, and think it’s a cool way to reach out to all of our youth (from all racial backgrounds). Get over the whole COLOR THING!

So hush up old folks, cause it’s a “youth” thang…you wouldn’t understand.


Jimmy B says:

Jees. Complain Complain Complain… If the adds are too white, blacks complain they are left out, but if they do an add targeted toward blacks its racist. Its an advertisement. Probably not the best, but it’s not intended to offend it just shows poor judgement on some level. If anyone should be upset its Subway. Im sure they paid good money for that ad and its just not really good. Certain things in life are not even worth fighting over. If something intentionally offends anyone; then everyone can stand up and fight and rest assured they will have a crew of supporters behind them. Lets all stop sweating the petty little things in life and concentrate on our bigger problems.

F-Kez says:

You fools be trippin’. I suppoze that Kfez is a racist too. Sike.
You got gets all stupid when shit happens. The world dont revolve around you peeps. Now I’m gonna go buy me a $5 footlong sub. You all know subway dont take welfare check anyway.

Jade says:

@ everyone

Thanks for all your comments. I still think this campaign is a bad idea in terms of concept. The execution side is ok. However, cultural appropriation is something that I am always a bit uneasy about, be it negative or positive. I know that the target audience of this campaign was not black people… as Lynne said above, it is a product of some ish I don’t want to get in to.

Also, regardless to how much hip hops has permeated pop culture, the fact that for a majority of black people the initial reaction to this advertisement was discomfort to me says there is something wrong. Per Wikipedia, this is modern day blackface:

“Blackface in the broader sense includes similarly stereotyped performances even when they do not involve blackface makeup.”

For me, at the very least, I am happy that this has provoked some discussion. My real hope though is that, moving forward, Subway and companies like them, just do better ads.

@Angela, it was originally sent in an email blast is my understanding.

John says:

I am confused. We as society, are asked to embrace the African-American culture, which includes this stereotype. I use the word stereotype, but this is actually reality. A large percent of the African-American population projects this image, and embraces it. At times when this stereotype is attacked in a negative manner, it is defended by reason of heritage or culture. It seems there are double standards that really need to be addressed. This stereotype either needs to be accepted as positive or negative within the African-American community, once this is done, maybe the rest of society will not be confused, and follow that lead.

Jenn says:

I checked it out. I think it’s lame as hell but not offensive. I think you need to unwad your panties pull them out of your butt and stop starting crap if corporate America uses the stereotype of poor white folks living in trailers or out in the woods isn’t racist then why is the ghetto slang and bling used in this ad racist? I know just as many white people that talk like that as I do black people? Bad grammer is universal and knows not your race. Oh but major props to you. You only perpetuated the stereotype by flying off the handle and making a mountain out of a mole-hill. Oh and I wonder how many people have seen the ad thanks to your sniveling about how horrible it is??

Jesse says:

Looks like just another distasteful piece of pop culture in advertizing, to me. “Ghetto” style and language are “in” now. To the point that even advertisements want to cash in on it.

Allstatebear says:

If BET did it, I bet it would be OK

josh says:

oh SHUT Up its not a big deal
you yourself are being racist by connecting this type of language to black people so now what?

V.E.G. says:

This ad is offensive to African-Americans. The ancestors of William (white man) and Elizabeth Grinstead (African-European woman), Emmanuel Rodriguez (African man), best known as Emmanuel Driggers, George Galphin (white man with a African woman), Jan Van Salee (white man with an African Muslim wife), Peter van Meerhof (white man with an African wife, Adam Rogers (African-European man), and Joseph Pendarvis (white man with an African woman) are not going to like this.

Rand says:

I wish people would stop using the word “racist” so loosely, so that it has no meaning anymore. A policy that prevents blacks from voting is racist, but this ad?

It shows a white US president speaking in slang originated by blacks, but marketed to a wider audience long before Subway. It doesn’t make reference to blacks, there are no blacks in the ad, so I am not really sure what makes the ad “racist” or even “prejudiced”. You can’t even say that the ad only appears in black neighborhoods, as it is online for everyone to see.

If you really want to be mad at Subway, be mad at Subway for continuing the promotion of the idea that substandard English is cool and acceptable.

john says:

Quit your whinning. Go to school and learn proper English if your concerned about it. They are just having a little fun, why is everyone so up tight? Hasnt anyone seen the Chappelle show?

shawn says:

i dun get how this is racist
sum white people talk and dress like that too
isnt it racist that ppl think only black ppl do that stuff?

jeff says:

but it is ok for them to make movies about this stuff and you all make fun of it and like it right

jeff says:

it is just a joke

jeff says:

stop whinning

summeksikanguy says:

it is an image of abe with a headband and jewlery……
how out of touch these writers seem, sigh… i went to a very diversive school and have allways been around team sports were race was not important. its what you brought to the field. in my school people would get “blinged” out regardless of the race. the whole headband and “bling” are more of a style (hip hop..yes started by latinos and blacks but now universal)NOT a representation of a race and i think that as long as black people keep calling out racism on such petty and dumb things the situation is not going to improve. i mean this mostly to the older generation because we, the young people have realised that we live in a society thats more about class than color. color has never been an issue for me and my friends. it just seems its an issue to the hypocritical people that look for things that look “black” take them out of context and make them racist. am i wrong? prehaps but would you have a lot more representation in the media than asians and hispanics.

something to think about while some yell foul

shari says:

where was the backlash to mcdonalds when it aired the commercial with black people to promote the chicken sandwich or the koolaid commericals with no white people? Stop being so sensitive we create a market for such antics yet we want to be offended by it? How many black comedians have made fun of various sterotypes about black people in their acts and we laugh? I wasn’t offended by the ad. if we as a people don’t want non blacks depictiing us in a “negative” manner stop giving them the amunition to shoot us.

Clint says:

my comment to subway……
Your depiction of Abraham Lincoln as a wanna be Kevin Federline is horrendous Do you guys really think that Abe would have approved of this when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation? I’m quite sure he wouldn’t have laughed. I know that advertisers and other large multi national corporations based in America have played upon the dumbing down of society and Subway incorporating themselves into the mindless fray is, at this point in the game, sad. Try pitching something as smart because after this last decade the American people are about ready for it and I’m quite sure that all your highly paid and educated advertisers can come up with something a little more clever.

Clinton Boutwell IV

WhoCares2008 says:

Who cares? If there was a goof cowboy on the add asking if You’ll want a 5 buck footlong, you think there would be fuss? Besides if anything they’re being disrespectful to Abe. GET OVER IT!

Sean says:

Where, if anywhere, in the advertising campaign do they denote race? As ridiculous as the campaign may be, as shortsighted as it may be, as uncreative as it may be, to jump to the conclusion of racism is to hurl oneself into presumption. What you’re essentially doing is being the racist yourself by presuming that those qualities are limited to one race.

There are enough white kids wandering about who talk like. To assert that its exclusive to one race is to jump the gun and then some. Is the ad in poor taste? I wouldn’t say that much. I’d say that it’s a ridiculous campaign, a worthless campaign, a campaign that panders to a particular set of social groups incredibly ignorantly… but… Racist? Nah. Just terrible.

Kaiane913 says:

Wow, I must say I’m offended.

Dorian says:

Racist? Yes, subway is definitely feeding into the typical Black hip-hop stereotype. But it would be the same thing if Abe had a bandana on his head, jean jacket, guitar in his hand, .. you get the point. It’s one thing to portray the image of African-Americans poorly, but to simply COPY the image that WE (not all of us, but we live in a world of generalizations) co-sign the image to make a paycheck…that’s hardly racist! In fact, the person who developed that ad might have been Black himself! The ad may be in poor-taste, but it’s all marketing, they just want their $5.

joanne says:

is a stereotype. is an ignorant and disrespectful stereotype. unacceptable. should be removed.

Hip-hop is ubiquitous.

Mario Guzman says:

Oh please. This is a harmless promotion. The Silverback and Vizo comments are spot on. Are you saying ONLY people of color can dress and act Hip Hop? That’s sterotypical in itself. Get your panties unwadded and please spend more time worrying about the economy.

Charles says:

I agree with those who say it isn’t racist. I think that the promotion is on point for the consumer that it targets. This type of slang and the visuals are embraced by many races. You can’t even say that it is about Hip-hop anymore because Hip-hop has infiltrated many different music genres and cultures. I can see if Abe tried to sound black, but Abe sounds like an old white man. Furthermore, I hear more white kids talking like this than black kids. If you don’t like the ad, it is probably because it is not made for you. You are probably too old to understand it, LOL. The racism card can not be played on this one.

Angela says:

Great comments. I agree not so sure that it’s racist but do agree that it is just feeding a stereotype about hip-hop culture not about a race. Too often people associate hip-hop with race when it is a culture all its own that is made up of many all races.

@Fredric I agree the mix of slang and proper English is comical, wondering if that was intentional.

@Jade what site was the original banner on?

20 years ago marketers would not touch hip hop with a 100 ft pole. We complained that America was racist and would not pay attention to Hip Hop because it was made by blacks. Now we think that it is racist that we do. Jim Crow and slavery have messed with our heads so much that we can no longer truly identify racism. Every time we disagree with the actions of a white person we can’t just lump it the magical category of racism. What if we later find out that Subway hired a black ad agency for there marketing efforts and this is what they produced. Is the ad agency then uncle toms? If so everybody out there that is remotely profiting off of the popularity and marketability of hip hop is either racist or and uncle tom.

vizo says:

I’m not sure it’s racist. We could be a little too sensitive about these ads sometimes. There are many ills affecting or is it effecting black community that deserves our attention more and we should be upset about. With that said, the ad is engaging and I must admit I did laugh when I saw it. However, It sure hells didn’t make me want to purchase a 5 dolla sub.

Finally, I see and hear people who look and talk like that who are not black.

Let me play real devil’s advocate here and say we have “rap” music to blame for this. If “rap” music is one of the country’s biggest import and most cross over art form of all time, and every ad exec on madison avenue then thinks it’s cool to tap into the power of what’s hot — this is what we end up with. Whether they hit the mark or not, or you find it offensive or not.

It’s a product of some ish I don’t even want to get into. But be real, the caricatures of black people enacted by black people are in the mainstream full force and that’s how we end up with these interpretations. And then people end up thinking the ads are for “black” people but in the end you find out they’re for another set of people entirely who read black people in this light.

Hard to call it. Always, hard. I wasn’t immediately offended as much as I asked myself who talks like that. And then lyrics to many “rap” songs came to the front of mind. And I’m no rap hater. So just know that.

Ananda Leeke says:

Thanks for the heads up. I wrote Subway and will not be buying their salads.

Fredric says:

That joint is actually pretty awesome.

I mean, I think we’re at a point now where I saw some played out, comedy sketch, Jamie Kennedy type joint.

I mean, it could be worse….but the fact that Abe interjects with some proper grammar, the joint is hilarious to me.

I’m thinking someone did raise their hand and I imagine the first sketch had Abe with a gold-tooth and ho on one arm. They said ‘ok, lets make it a little less blatant, but edgy enough where it generates buzz and ridiculous to get some chuckles’.

I’m cool with it.

Geezy G says:

They are just trying to be more urban and reach a broader audience. Imitation is a form of flattery and sometimes people try to relate to others and just go about it the wrong way. I think the ad is more ignorant than racist, but I do like the artwork.

mzvirgo says:

Are they serious with that promotion? That’s racist as hell!

Camille says:

I don’t even know where to start. I just sent this to a bunch of people.

I don’t just want them to dump this ad. I want the exec who wrote this to get publicly smacked.

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