CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Publicity like this would have been hard to buy: Fans of the NBC series "Chuck" on Facebook, Twitter and TV blogs such as Television Without Pity are rallying support for "Finale & Footlong," a campaign to persuade the network to renew the show by having viewers buy Subway sandwiches. And while Subway's marketing chief admits to stoking the flames a little, the sub shop didn't start the fire.
"Finale & Footlong" is a consumer-generated outgrowth of a product integration on "Chuck" earlier this month. Subway thought it had scored when the deal resulted not only in a prominent logo placement in the lighthearted spy drama but also a prominent mention by a main character of the chain's insanely well-known $5 promotion of a foot-long sandwich.
Wendy Farrington, a pharmaceutical sales rep, created "Finale & Footlong" in a blog posting at Television Without Pity. She asked fans to write letters, buy foot-long sandwiches at Subway today and watch the second-season finale live tonight to demonstrate the group's buying power. For an advertiser, it's a happy reversal of when sponsors get boycotted for supporting controversial programming. "Chuck" fans are turning to Subway as a potential ally to persuade the network to keep the show on air.
"Chuck" is about a goofy but lovable guy who stumbles into the intelligence community after seeing some classified information. While the show has built a loyal audience, it has yet to attain a broad following, and its chances for a third season seem precarious at best.
"As a non-Nielsen viewer, I feel the most effective means of making an impact is to wield my consumer power in a way that NBC and their sponsors will be able to measure," Ms. Farrington wrote, noting Subway's support of "Chuck." "To demonstrate my gratitude to that franchise for their support of 'Chuck,' I'm pitching a 'Finale & FOOTLONG' campaign to all the 'Chuck' forums and boards."
Ms. Farrington also announced she was pitching "key TV critics who've been supportive of 'Chuck.'" Time magazine and Entertainment Weekly have both written about Ms. Farrington's campaign. The "Save Chuck" fan page she administers on Facebook has nearly 5,500 members. "SaveChuck" is the fifth-highest-trending topic on Twitter. Fans are encouraged to mail receipts from Subway to NBC and sign online petitions.
Ms. Farrington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Encouraging the support
"Obviously, as a marketer, if you started that kind of behavior, you'd be called out pretty quickly," said Tony Pace, chief marketing officer for the Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust. "But if the behavior is already out there, you can encourage it without being too heavy-handed. And that's what we've tried to do."
Mr. Pace said Subway has called on some representatives of the brand to fuel the chatter. He added -- with a line that could have been ripped from a "Chuck" script -- that Subway has "a few folks we work with in Hollywood who we consider our secret weapons." He declined to name them, "because we prefer that they remain secret."
Meantime, NBC's official "Chuck" site is featuring a rundown of the "Finale & Footlong" particulars, along with footage of "Chuck" star Zachary Levi in a Subway restaurant in Birmingham, England. In the five-minute video, Mr. Levi estimates that he has about 600 fans in tow, orders a foot-long turkey-breast sandwich "with everything," and jumps behind the counter to help make sandwiches (after donning a pair of plastic gloves, of course).
"This is where it all starts," Mr. Levi says from the front of the Subway line. "Right here, people."
Meanwhile, Subway has been drumming up renewed interest in the $5 sandwich deal that catapulted the chain into industry-leading same-store-sales gains last year. Mr. Pace has said the deal resulted in at least double-digit gains, which are virtually unheard of for such a large company.
Now Subway is faced with the Herculean task of lapping those gains. And while a one-day promotion for a sagging TV program is unlikely to produce a meaningful lift for the nation's largest restaurant chain, it's not a bad time for some extra attention.
Subway's agency is McCarthy Mambro Bertino, Boston.