The Subway Logo & Brand: Success Sandwiched With Greatness

May 16, 2023

By: Gareth Mankoo

The Subway Logo & Brand: Success Sandwiched With Greatness

Easily recognizable, much loved, and one of its kind, the Subway logo has been top-of-mind for generations of customers with legendary precision.

Today, Subway is among the most prevalent fast-food chains, with several thousand branches and franchises worldwide. The wide variety of healthy meals and delicious fast-food snacking options gives the brand a wide audience base.

We look at what makes the brand easily identifiable when driving down the highway at midnight or hungrily scourging for a healthy snack in town, the remarkably clever and simple Subway logo.

The evolution of the Subway logo through the years

The story of the Subway logo has many milestones because the brand went by a different name at its inception. Some elements remained consistent throughout. As you travel through time with the endearing brand story and logo design of Subway, you will notice it.

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1965 to 1968: Subway vs. Submarines

1965-1968
1965-1968

Once upon a time, subway sandwiches were called submarines. Only a few know the origin of the memorable brand name, but it all began in 1965.

Fred DeLuca, with the help of his friend Peter Buck, started Pete’s Super Submarines. The wordmark logo featured Pete’s written in blue with a playful font. Beside it, stacked one on top of the other, were the words Super and Submarine.

The sandwiches were called submarines because of the bun’s shape. The logo font was represented stylishly, with varying thicknesses to bring out the brand’s aspect of speed and agility.

1968 to 1970: A monochromatic take

1968-1970
1968-1970

Three years after the first sandwich shop opened, the name was changed to a more concise Pete’s Subs. The shortening of the name became the defining identity of the elongated buns of the brand. The designers inscribed both words in the same color, making it look seamless.

The alphabet in the name was written above and below the middle line with alternating frequency. The pattern gave the brand its playful personality, while the thick black strokes of the font exuded confidence and pride. An asterisk-like flower preceded the wordmark.

1970 to 1972: Subway makes an introduction

1970-1972
1970-1972

By 1970, the brand began to aim toward higher growth, both geographically and scale-wise. What was earlier referred to as “Sub” was now christened Subway to represent the spread of the franchise across different locations. One theory suggests that the name was inspired by a business decision to open outlets at subways.

The logo was not stacked, with Pete’s occupying the upper portion, accompanied by the asterisk-like flower, and Subway taking up the lower part. The iconic arrows were represented for the first time in this logo, which didn’t look too different from a devil’s tail.

The S, U, and B letters were filled, while W, A, and Y were outlined. The font for Pete’s remained unchanged, but Subway was inscribed with a fun font with deliberate inconsistencies.

1972 to 1973: Mouth-watering yellow

1972-1973
1972-1973

In 1972, the brand redesigned its logo by creating an edit, more than a complete revamp. Pete’s was completely dropped from the brand's name, and it came to be known as what it is called to this day, Subway. There were no alterations to the font or effect of the wordmark.

1973 to 2002: The perfect contrast

1973-2002
1973-2002

The longest-serving logo of the brand was designed in 1973. It was truly infectious throughout the world, thanks to an increase in franchises. The logo was made for the age of computers, and due credit should be given to the designers who envisioned this change in 1973.

The wordmark was written in two brand colors, white for “Sub” and yellow for the “Way” portion, and placed inside a rounded rectangle. It was the first instance of yellow being used in the branding.

The name was written in all caps with bold lettering. The first part of the logo was white to indicate the freshness of the ingredients, and the yellow reflected the joy and pleasure of the customer.

Put all this together, and you have a simple, clear message: Subway is the place for healthy and fresh food that tastes delightful. The arrows from the preceding logo were retained but in a more balanced style to keep with the well-aligned logo.

2002 to 2016: Quirky yet modern at its finest

2002-2016
2002-2016

By far the most memorable logo for this generation, the 2002 edit saw a dramatic use of Italics to stylize the brand. It also introduced green in the color world of the brand, which goes a long way to represent the freshness of the ingredients used. It formed the outline on the white and yellow portion of the font, which was italicized and made narrower.

Here was a welcome change from the previous black logo background. The lighter colors made the brand seem more approachable. The italics helped the arrows appear with more brand personality.

2015 to 2016: Green for freshness

2015-2016
2015-2016

After the death of the Founder, DeLuca, his sister, Suzanne Greco, took over as General Manager. It was also the 50th anniversary of the brand, and something meaningful was needed to celebrate this milestone. This duty was given to the advertising agency BBDO Worldwide. The proposition that they were to emphasize was the freshness of food.

The agency switched to a lighter green color and turned the logo green, ditching the long-standing white and yellow combination. The change may seem subtle, but it gave Subway a unique brand identity in a cluttered space of fast-food restaurants that flaunt yellows and reds (we’re lookin’ at you, McDonald’s!).

2016 to today: The one we know and love

2016-current
2016-current

While the green logo was strong and clutter-breaking, its creation coincided with a weaker period for the brand. As sales began to decline, there was a need for a revision to the logo that would make it come across as more modern and full of personality.

American design firm FRCH, of the Hilton and Tiffany fame, was commissioned to uplift the brand. The firm made a hallmark decision, bringing back the classic logo from 1973 with some much-needed modifications.

The new logo uses a well-aligned, perfectly-balanced font. “Sub” was written in yellow, while “Way” was now in green. White was used to fill negative spaces, but the logo is large without any background color.

Subway's icon variation
Subway's icon variation

A shorter variant of the sign represents arrows around each other with the negative space in between, creating the S. This clever compressed logo works wonderfully well as a profile picture or favicon on brand properties.

The LOGO.com versions of the Subway logo design

The arrows on the "S" and "Y" have always been a defining component of the Subway logo, despite the many iterations the design has undergone. But could the famous logo be reimagined once again?

Customize similar versions of the Subway logo below and take them home for free!

Subway logo variation
Click the image to customize this logo
Subway logo variation
Click the image to customize this logo

Thanks to a few subtle tweaks, we now have not one but two Subway logo variations to take inspiration from.

What makes the Subway logo work today?

Source: Today
Source: Today

Several factors make the current Subway logo as effective as it is. The colors are refreshing and create a positive association with the customer. It is balanced, and even though it has been through numerous renditions, it still creates a perfect recall for customers. You know a Subway sign when you see it from afar.

A brief history of Subway

Source: Subway
Source: Subway

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The story of Subway began in 1965 when Fred DeLuca borrowed $1,000 from a friend to open a sandwich shop in Connecticut. The duo joined a joint venture to fund DeLuca’s desire to complete medical school. Subway arrived in California in 1978 and opened its first international brand in Bahrain in 1984.

DeLuca was CEO till 2015, after which Suzanne Greco took over. The brand has always been true to its promise of delivering fast food that is healthy and fresh. The consistency of this brand image has made it one of the few rare fast-food brands enjoyed by fitness freaks and vegetarians alike.

What are some commonly asked questions about the Subway logo and brand? Get your questions answered with these three FAQs.

1. What is the meaning of the Subway logo?

Subway station entrances and exits are represented by the arrows in the S and Y of the company's emblem. It represents the possibility of eating on the go.

2. Why is the Subway logo two arrows?

The two arrows indicate the 'in' and 'out' speed of customers that visit a Subway shop, which is appropriate given the chain's mission to provide customers with fresh, healthy sandwiches as quickly as possible.

3. Why does Subway use yellow in their logo?

Since its inception, Subway has fostered a sense of optimism and newness, which are reflected in the present logo's usage of a vibrant green and yellow color combination scheme.

Bottom line

The Subway logo story demonstrates the power of color in creating associations. Because of its wide presence, a green and yellow logo within a mall or a passing gas station reminds us of Subway.

If it is a green and yellow logo, it might be Subway.

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