Three things punctuate my memory of 2004: crying over how pathetic I was at Dance Dance Revolution, Lindsay Lohan and a series of commercials featuring two haunting creatures with misshapen eyes and mouths screaming at me about the delights of Quiznos subs.
“We love the subs, coz they are good to us,” yelled a weird and disconcerting creature in a bowler hat, before going on to describe the sandwiches at Quiznos as tasty, crunchy and warm.
So, you’re probably wondering: Why am I talking about this now, in the year 2019?
Well, a tweet reminiscing about those creatures ― the spongmonkeys (yes, that’s their actual name; more on that in second) ― and their musical stylings by writer Erin Sullivan took off on Sunday night. Which made me realize that I still remember every single lyric to these dumb ads.
Sullivan’s tweet quipped that the spongmonkeys were why millennials don’t own homes ― a riff off the very 2019 internet joke that stems from claims that millennials can’t afford homes because of things like avocado toast and lattes. The tweet has more than 15,000 retweets and 58,000 likes.
In response to Sullivan, I’ve been pleased to realize that I’m not the only who remembered and have never stopped thinking about these bizarre commercials:
Let’s get back to the basics here. For starters, what the actual fuck is a spongmonkey?
As spongmonkey is a portmanteau of the term “spong,” which on British website b3ta means “the practice of adding large staring eyes with small pupils to an image,” plus, well, monkeys. They were created by writer and animation director Joel Veitch, who appeared to have made them in 2003 and featured them in a delightfully odd video called “We Like the Moon.”
“The song was improvised with my brother Alex. We had been to the pub, and bashed the song out when we got home. I made the lyrics up as I went along, and it was recorded on to a video camera. The next morning I watched it back, still liked it, so I put together the animation and whacked it up on the internet,” Veitch told me via email.
Quiznos didn’t elaborate on how it became intrigued by the spongmonkeys, but told HuffPost that its “brand team has enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane in the Twitter comments.”
“Some things will never change, though. We still love da moon, and we still have a pepper barrr,” Mark Lohmann, Quiznos’ chief brand officer, said in an email.
I learned how Quiznos got ahold of them via a 2004 Slate interview with the company’s chief marketing officer, Trey Hall.
Apparently, the brand’s ad firm received a clip of Veitch’s “We Like the Moon” from his site rathergood.com and “decided it was perfect for a new campaign.” The sandwich brand was apparently seeking to make a “dramatic” statement with its small advertising budget; the spongmonkeys Quiznos commercials became part of a Quiznos ad campaign that hit TV screens all around the United States during the 2004 Super Bowl.
Veitch told me that Quiznos had their “agency writing on the songs [too], as they are commercials and that’s how commercials work.” He also indicated that his favorite of the spongmonkey ads ― yes, there was more than one ― was the one where the creatures are dressed as Huns, helmets and all.
“It’s not particularly well known but it is my favourite. I feel like there is something particularly noble in their assertion that they are too civilised to eat raw subs. Yes, those little Spongmonkies are very refined, and anyone who thinks otherwise should be ashamed of themselves,” said Veitch.
Quiznos’ chief marketing officer later told AdAge that the campaign succeeded in creating “awareness and buzz,” so they later “pulled back on [the branding ads] to sell real product benefits.” That same report noted that the brand received as “many as 30,000 calls the first week” the ads aired and that some franchisees weren’t happy with the critters.
When I first saw them in 2004, I hadn’t seen anything like the spongmonkeys on television before. I remember being utterly transfixed, laughing out loud every single time I saw them and scream-singing their lyrics everywhere I went for weeks. My sister and I often were left gasping for air whenever the one spongmonkey aggressively exclaimed, “THEY GOT A PEPPER BAR!!!”
Spongmonkeys were the sort of odd internet amalgamation that, at the time, we had seen only when we sneaked downstairs to the only computer we had access to, fired up the AOL modem and lurked on eBaum’s World.
The bug-eyed musicians have made many reappearances on social media over the years, dominating Reddit boards and even making Time’s “Top 10 Creepiest Product Mascots,” alongside Burger King’s King and McDonald’s Hamburglar, despite Quiznos as a brand rapidly shrinking (Quiznos filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2014 and was down to 800 stores worldwide as of 2018).
Veitch says he reacts “with utter joy to all the attention they get.”
“I am humbled and overwhelmed with glee. Hooray for the world, as it is a world that allows my little Spongmonkeys to sing their joyful song to the people,” he told me.
In a world where Denny’s casually calls freckles “body pepper” and VitaCoco begets social media feuds that end in urine-filled jugs, it’s not clear whether or not the spongmonkeys would have what it takes to break through the noise like they did in the early aughts. But they’ll always have a place in my unhinged little heart.
This article has been updated with comments from Quiznos.