Revolution, not evolution. That was the task facing agency ChangeUp as it began to plot Jimmy John’s transformation. The 2,800-unit sandwich chain joined the Inspire Brands family in October 2019—a group that sprung to life a year earlier and has since grown to more than 31,600 restaurants across Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sonic Drive-In, Jimmy John’s, and most, recently Dunkin’. Inspire directs some $26 billion in annual systemwide sales and 600,000 company and franchise employees.

Jimmy John’s spent some time, as the rest of Inspire’s chains did when initially acquired, integrating and learning to pull from the company’s collective core. But this year promises to be a game-changer.

Jimmy John’s started 2021 by launching a national Big Game, “Meet the King”—its first in brand history. It focused on Jimmy John’s differentiators in the sandwich category. Namely, speed and freshness, but with a comical vibe.

Throughout the year, however, expect more tangible updates. Jimmy John’s plans to roll a number of consumer-facing elements systemwide. Included is a comprehensive visual identity launch and contemporized logo. New in-store signage, merchandise, digital footprint, and more, the company said.

“As part of a broader brand evolution, we’ve been focused on continuing to reach new guests and refining our operations to meet customers where they are,” CMO Darin Dugan said in February. “We are energized by the positive momentum of our brand and believe these enhancements to the Jimmy John’s customer experience will give guests more reasons to come back or try us for the first time.”

ChangeUp recently completed its Sonic Drive-In store refresh that included a new prototype, “Delight” for Inspire. It’s aim was to wink at the legacy brand’s equity, yet also create a new space to bring Sonic into the future, complete with optimized drive thru and a covered patio with string lights and lawn games. It features fewer and wider car docks that don’t cross over the lanes. From a high level, the Sonic project was not all that different from ChangeUp’s Jimmy John’s goals.

The brand wanted to accelerate its “freaky fast” reputation, but do so by leaning into something that was always baked into Jimmy John’s DNA—quality.

So ChangeUp started by identifying the heart of the company’s identity. It looked at Jimmy John’s initials, its medallion, and iconic super seal. How could ChangeUp simplify and codify the existing 40-plus logo variations used since 1983?

Its solution was a cohesive collection with custom-crafted initials, wordmark, and medallion. The new packaging is an amplified version of Jimmy John’s black, white, and red brand colors. Messaging and patterning is bold and playful. The illustrations quirky, as ChangeUp unified the brand’s hand-draw linework’s imperfectness across the system of icons. The Flying Sandwich looks meatier. The Super Seal “sealier.”

Ryan Brazelton, executive creative director at ChangeUp, chatted with QSR about the project, what stood out, and where Jimmy John’s branding goes from here.

Let’s start on day one. You mention in the case study a need for Jimmy John’s to grow up without feeling old. That’s an interesting notion. Where did you even begin addressing it?

Jimmy John’s has always had a real underdog spirit and roll your sleeves up attitude. It’s had incredible success building a brand on those principles. So much of that attitude allowed them to always play pound for pound as the best sandwiches in its category. They believed that when they were one store and today at over 2,700 stores.

They did it all themselves, and as a brand, had amazing DNA. We knew we could help them codify and deliver the brand’s spirit at scale to grow strategically and nationally. We knew it wasn’t about revolution, but it was about evolution—pulling out the brand’s most vital assets and perfecting them. Refreshing the brand needed to feel like what Jimmy John’s had always been, but what it had been on its best day.

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What were some brand attributes you identified that guided the process? We know the “freaky fast” reputation has stood the test of time. But was it in need of a refresh of sorts? Or how did you accentuate and amplify that?

It’s like Jimmy John’s had a glimpse into the future because they understood the role of fast and what a powerful tool and equity it would be in the category and for the business (digital delivery, etc.). But what got lost in building that reputation was the fresh and quality story.

A guiding objective of the project was a signal to quality. We weren’t going to lose “freaky fast” or “freaky fresh,” but we wanted the customer to see the quality through the brand. We aimed to create something that looked as good as it tasted. We modified the red, white, and black colors ever so slightly to punch through on digital. The biggest demonstration of quality was the photography—to signal quality and fast—the question we posed to ourselves was, “how would Ferrari shoot a sandwich?”

Break down some details of the campaign, beginning with the logo. There have been 40-plus variations used since 1993. How did you bring that all together?

We uncovered 47 versions of the logo actively used in the system today, and while they were slight differences that many wouldn’t notice, it didn’t signal the confident quintessential Jimmy John’s. Sorting through that, we focused on perfecting the signatures—the JJ’s initials, the medallion, the wordmark—to simplify and make it more ownable, signature, legible. 

After crafting the initials, we redrew all the typography, both in the medallion and separated from the wordmark. Jimmy John’s also had equity with the stars as a part of its visual toolkit—we lifted them to take on the typography properties. Overall, we focused on simplifying the medallion into a beautiful modern badge that the brand to leverage.

Talk about the typography. Packaging. Illustrations. Uniforms. Etc. What changed?

Typography: Jimmy John’s had always been a typographically savvy and centric brand—due to its city roots—and we didn’t want to walk away from that. Back to the charm of the sandwich shop—they’ve always had accents of illustrations and script to have some fun—but there was no definitive feel. Building on that, we redrew the icons – the signature icon that had had a hint of humor in it—was the super seal. We looked back at the super seal’s first iteration and everything in between and took the best of it to recraft with the flying sandwich, thumbs up, etc.

Uniforms: We didn’t want to change how employees might want to wear theirT-shirts as street clothes. We pushed it further and showed that the uniforms could have that Jimmy John’s swagger (i.e., “Major Sandwich Flex” shirts), deliver the brand, and be something the employees can have fun wearing.

Packaging: Unlike some brands that continuously change their packaging, Jimmy John’s packaging (much like their simplified and ever-present menu) is evergreen and high quality. It’s simple, sharp, and unmistakably Jimmy John’s. We ensured the materials, patterns, and identity were bold to evolve and dial it up.

How long, roughly, did this project take? What was the collaboration like between Jimmy John’s corporate and your team?

It took a year. The collaboration was an incredible experience for both teams. We pulled our team together based on people who loved the brand—and when Jimmy John’s corporate realized how much passion we have for the brand, the relationship grew.

We helped them open their minds to what Jimmy John’s could be and be brave with new opportunities. They helped us understand the heart and heritage of what was essential to make sure we didn’t lose the brand’s DNA.

Give us a sense of the final result. How would you describe the Jimmy Johns of 2021 versus 2020?

Jimmy John’s of 2021 has a fresh new pair of sneakers. They launched the new look with a Super Bowl ad, and the LTO launch is a compelling reason to have a new experience with the brand. They are confident, strong, and feeling like themselves, versus 2020—a panic year for everyone. This is a Jimmy John’s who spent the time looking in the mirror to envision who they want to be, and they’re going to go get it.

Fast Casual, Marketing & Promotions, Sandwiches, Story, Jimmy John's