If at any point over the past year your craving for a big sandwich has turned to thoughts of QuickChek, you have Oxford Communications to thank for it. The Lambertville-based advertising agency took on QuickChek as a client at the end of 2007 and has helped the convenience store chain on its quest to be the first place you think to go for a sub or some coffee.

Last year’s “Summer of Subs” campaign put that message out on the Internet, on posters, on radio, through social media outlets, and on its own micro-site, ILoveMySub.com. “This was our answer to HoagieFest,” says Maria Coyle, the account manager at Oxford who runs the QuickChek Campaign. HoagieFest was WaWa Market’s campaign to sell value-priced subs. “They had $2.99 subs, we had five varieties of $2.99 subs.”

Oxford’s efforts paid off at the the NJ CAMA ASTRA Awards. The firm won a silver award in the business-to-consumer category, for the way it capitalized on various methods of getting the word out that QuickChek sells subs it is proud of. “QuickChek needs to be recognized for its food,” says John Martorana, president of Oxford. “They’ve grown in a big way and the whole idea is ‘fresh convenience.’”

To sell that point (and more sandwiches), Coyle says, Oxford built a multi-pronged campaign that targeted existing customers and got them involved in the brand. One method was “skin-vertising,” by which a customer who stopped in for morning coffee would get his hand stamped, allowing him to come back later that day for a free sub. The plan was to let morning-only customers know that they could come back for lunch or dinner and to get other people asking about the hand stamps, Coyle says (see graphic, page 37).

Much of the “Summer of Subs” campaign, concentrated on digital media. “We always want to get the younger generation involved because they’re our next generation of customers,” Martorana says. And the younger generation is all about texting and Facebook. QuickChek’s Facebook page has 89,000 friends, Coyle says.

Oxford’s approach was to get customers like these involved with the store and the brand by getting them to talk among themselves and with the company. Owned by the Durling family, QuickChek has put considerable effort in talking with and answering customers online, Martorana says.

But handling complaints and suggestions is only one part of the plan. Another was through ILoveMySub.com, where customers could virtually build and name their dream sandwiches as part of a contest. The contest culminated in the Sub Showdown at the QuickChek store in Old Bridge last fall. The winner, incidentally, was the Big Bad Bacon Chicken, for which contestant Alan Kahn won $1,500 in QuickChek gift cards. “It’s not just about throwing offers at them,” Martorana says. “It’s about talking back and forth. It’s about customer engagement.”

Oxford, founded by Martorana in 1986, is in its fourth year with QuickChek. The firm is also the agency behind the annual QuickChek Festival of Ballooning, held in July at Solberg Airport. “We do all the creative work for the festival,” Coyle says. And not just for QuickChek. Oxford handles all creative aspects of the festival.

The main thing QuickChek brings to the table, Martorana says, is authenticity. Being family-owned, he says, the chain tries to make its interaction with the public as personal as possible. Oxford has helped the company achieve this through staying up on social media, ever aware of the dangers of ignoring what is being said out there.

“The Durling family really nurtures the brand,” Coyle says. The protocol is something QuickChek calls “total customer dedication.”

“No response goes un-responded-to,” she says. “They answer everyone within 24 hours.” It is a level of hands-on customer service that allows Oxford to capitalize on the authenticity angle, Martorana says. Customers believe there are real people behind the brand and therefore are easier to engage.

Just because the Summer of Subs is over, of course, does not mean the campaign to turn QuickChek into the preferred sandwich stop is over. A new campaign with a still-secret name kicks off this week. “It’s not just a one-time thing,” Matrorana says. “It’s an ongoing effort.”

Oxford Communications Inc., 11 Music Mountain Boulevard, Lambertville 08530-1830; 609-397-4242; fax, 609-397-8863. John Martorana, president. www.oxfordcomm.com

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