I’ve been interested to see the Save Chuck campaign develop. The campaign, and the need for it, point to savvy strategies on the behalf of the fans, and potentially on behalf of NBC.
For the fans, one of the centerpieces of the campaign was a move to get fans to go buy a footlong sub at Subway, and fill out the comment card asking Subway to put pressure on NBC to keep the show around. Chuck‘s had a few rather garishly obvious product placements from Subway this season, hence the idea.
“SOS objects” have become popular accompaniments to campaigns to save shows, as best evidenced by the thousands of nuts sent to CBS to encourage them to renew Jericho. Sending something to a network communicates that you like their show, but a continuing problem for such campaigns has been that the network usually doesn’t care if you like the show: they care if millions of others like the show. While there’s obviously the hope that the publicity surrounding the campaign will convince the network to keep the show around in the hopes that all that publicity attracts new viewers, it’s the publicity alone that seems effective here. Networks have long shown that they don’t particularly care about active fans, or even that they find them an annoyance, and while the nets are forced to care more in a post-net era, fans who send in nuts still risk annoying the network more than convincing them to renew. So the publicity part of the plan may work, but the rest is a little misguided.
By contrast, the Chuck campaign seems to have a lot more potential. Here, after all, the fans realize that their viewership alone clearly hasn’t been enough to impress NBC. NBC needs to monetize that fandom, and is currently unsure that they’re getting enough out of it; thus, the fans respond by giving NBC another metric by which they can monetize the fans. Namely, they send the message that “we will be really good for and to your sponsors.” They add value to themselves in NBC’s eyes, and provide a new way for NBC to monetize them. Meanwhile, the publicity is still there, and yet now that publicity has a multiplying effect, since every time a journalist or a blogger writes about the campaign, Subway is getting yet more publicity. Meanwhile, given the nature of the campaign, Subway and NBC can now envision yet more garish and obvious product placements for the show in the future, since now they’ll have the ironic tinge of being shout-outs to the fans who took part in the campaign.
Admittedly, there are ethical questions we should ponder here, given that we’re now involving fans directly in product placement deals. Subway sandwiches are relatively innocuous, but we could envision other placement-fan arrangements that might bother us more. Nevertheless, I’ve been impressed by the fans’ ability to up the ante in a way that shows they know how the business works.
As long as we’re talking strategy, though, I also wonder whether NBC has full plans to renew, and is manufacturing a little extra publicity for the show in the process. If so, they’re smartly capitalizing on fan labor, letting Facebook, television critics’ articles and daily updates, blog renamings such as Give My My Remote‘s temporary change to Give Me My Chuck, and so forth do the job of promoting their show. Even if this wasn’t their original plan, they’d be foolish not to let it play out a bit at this point, and so I wouldn’t be surprised to hear they’ve made the decision to keep it, but figure their relationship with Subway and with both fans and potential new viewers will only improve. In this case, the campaign would give us not just an example of smart fan strategy, but also of smart network promotional strategy.
Of course, the show could still be cancelled, so Chuck may not live to see the fruits of the fan’s labor, but it poses an interesting model for future campaigns one way or the other
, Save Chuck