Tony Pace, Former Subway Ad Executive Who Pushed TV Networks to Make ‘Brand Memories,’ Dies at 64

Tony Pace, Subway
Courtesy of Pace Family

Tony Pace, an advertising industry veteran who parlayed top jobs at two of Madison Avenue’s biggest agencies into a role at a major restaurant chain where he prodded TV networks to test new ways of weaving products into programming, has died. He was 64 years old and was in a snowmobile accident Feb. 8 while visiting Montana for an Olympics-related hospitality event hosted by NBCUniversal.

Pace was an advocate for doing more than just the usual kinds of advertising. As chief marketing officer for the Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust, Pace helped pay for the production of episodes of the NBC comedy spy series “Chuck”; was an early backer of creating advertiser-backed content for Hulu in the form of ten minute shorts called “The 4 to 9ers”; and even helped secure an entire scene about Subway sandwiches in the CBS drama “Hawaii Five-0.”

He wanted viewers to talk about the sandwich chain as if they were speaking about the characters in the programs they tune in to see. “If the brand memory is really strong, those people are more likely to have an affinity for purchasing your brand,” he told Variety in 2015. “That’s what you are trying to create.”

Over the course of a 40-year career, Pace held executive roles at the former Young & Rubicam and McCann Erickson, two large ad agencies owned, respectively, by WPP and Interpublic Group, where he worked with clients such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Coca-Cola and Capital One. He was also a co-founder of Momentum, an Interpublic Group agency that focuses on experiential marketing.

He joined Subway in 2006 and held the CMO role for about a decade. While Subway became known during his tenure for “$5 footlongs,” he also steered it toward messages about healthy eating, a trend that consumers have adopted more seriously in 2022. During his tenure, Subway grew significantly and, through its advertising presence in mass media, often became part of popular culture. Under Pace, the company wove itself into a plot on the ABC drama “Nashville,” for example, and the dialogue on “Chuck.” The “Hawaii Five-0” scene was so tilted toward Subway that viewers took notice, and even Pace was surprised by how much time onscreen the company was granted.

“The funny thing about ‘Hawaii Five-0,’ frankly, they did what they wanted to do. We actually said, ‘You can do a lot less,’ but they were comfortable with that,” he told Variety.

When he left Subway in 2015, it was the 40th most trusted brand in the world, according to Millward Brown, a research firm owned by WPP. The firm estimated Subway’s brand value to total more than $22 billion. “We are kind of looking to be an invited guest with a speaking role,” Pace told Variety in 2013. “The classic product placement model is not where we are. Just having our logo is nice, but it’s not enough. We’d rather have some message communicated.”

L. Anthony Pace was born on Aug. 3, 1957 and grew up in Cranford and Summit, N.J. He was a sports enthusiast from a young age, and first started reading a daily newspaper while in elementary school so he could look at sports pages, scores and statistics. Pace attended the University of Notre Dame, where he worked at the school’s radio station, WSND, and was the editor-in-chief of the Notre Dame Observer, where he started as a sports journalist. He earned his MBA in finance at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he decided a career in advertising would allow him to stay close to writing and sports.

After leaving Subway, Pace opened his own marketing consultancy, Cerebral Graffiti, and led the Marketing Accountability Standards Board, a group that called for best practices in the marketing industry. He is also a past chair of Association of National Advertisers, an influential trade organization.

He is survived by his wife Ellen, daughter Liz and son Leo; his mother Maureen Pace, siblings Susan Gilbert; Daniel Pace; Thomas Pace; Macaire Pace and Cathleen Lazor.