by Josh Bernoff
From my Ad Age DigitalNext blog post.
Thousands of fans of the NBC series "Chuck" are rallying around the show with campaigns on Facebook and Television Without Pity. What makes this campaign different from the many other "save our show" campaigns is the suggestion that fans buy footlong sandwiches at Subway, since Subway was recently a featured advertiser in the show. Star Zachary Levi and Subway are actively participating in the campaign (check out the video below of hundreds of fans following Levi and buying subs in Birmingham, England).
Since this happened with the show Jericho (remember the 20 tons of nuts?) we can learn from the past. In that case, CBS un-cancelled the show in part because of the deluge of nuts from a groundswell of loyal viewers. CBS asked the viewers to recruit their friends to watch the show. But the ratings didn't reflect much enthusiasm, and they cancelled the show again.
Moral: thousands of visible, loyal viewers does not equal millions of actual viewers. Objects in the groundswell may be smaller than they appear. People who congregate online are not a representative sample.
So, what should NBC do?
- Acknowledge the enthusiasm by wading into fan forums and commenting directly with an identified NBC spokesperson. (Why do companies have so much trouble doing this?) Ask them to prove their loyalty by recruiting viewers for summer reruns, online stream viewing, etc. Buying footlongs is transient -- recruiting viewers is proof they have influence.
- If an insufficient number of viewers show up, take the show and its small but loyal following to an NBC cable network like USA.
What should Subway do?
- Continue to provide places and encouragement for viewers regardless of where the show goes. This sort of affinity group is hard to find. But . . .
- Acknowledge that while this may generate a new set of Subway customers, they may not be permanent. Subway needs its own affinity group, borrowing one from "Chuck" is a just a short-term boost. (There are hundreds of thousands of Subway fans on Facebook -- but I don't see the company doing much with these fans.)
UPDATE: (5/21): Not only was Chuck renewed, but Subway's sponsorship was a key part of the process. So contrary to what I said above, this campaign has influenced the network through the sponsor. Now Chuck's viewers must motivate others to watch or it'll just get cancelled again as Jericho did.