image

Fan Sites Are Free Promotion: An Interview with Magnus Lekay from Chuck Fan Site, Chuckgasmic

This series focuses on creators and maintainers of fan sites for the most popular fandoms around. Fan site creators work as unpaid promoters for record labels, movie studios, book publishers, television networks, and more. They often put their own time and money into a marketing campaign for their favorite entertainment with little, if any, recognition from the creators.

In this series, I’ll interview these fan site creators to review the development of their sites; their interaction with the writers, performers, and companies that benefit from their fan sites’ popularity; and the reason they’re passionate enough to work as unpaid promoters.

ChuckgasmicFind any show that’s been given more chances than Chuck, and I’ll eat my own customized pens. This low-rated and much-loved NBC spy comedy has been saved from the brink of cancellation every chuckin’ year since it went on the air in 2007.

I recently chatted with Magnus Lekay, the passionate fan who runs Chuckgasmic. Read on to find out why he loves Chuck, what he loves about the fandom, and why he believes fans can’t save shows.

How did you get interested in Chuck?

I started watching Chuck in season 2. My friend started working on a show and told me, “You need to check this show out.”

Within 15 minutes I was so in love with the show, it was ridiculous. It’s like the first time you fall in love with someone – that rush – it was that potent to me, how much I loved the show. It was the show I always wanted to watch.

Why didn’t you watch season 1?

It was the promos. The promos looked stupid every week.

Chuck You Tuesday

Chuck You Tuesday is the best Chuck podcast in the world!

When did you start getting involved in the fandom?

I went looking for websites dedicated to Chuck during the 6-week break between episodes 11 and 12 of season 2.

I went to ChuckTV.net and started posting in the forums. That led me to everything else. I got familiar with the fandom, the way things operated.

When did you realize you wanted to create your own site?

I started pushing for us to start a Save Our Show campaign in March instead of waiting until April or May. We had some resistance from Mel, from ChuckTV, about that. “You shouldn’t push; the show isn’t cancelled yet.” And she was probably right, but I was impatient. I started pushing for things.

I started the letter-writing campaign, because I actually knew people who had worked for the networks. They told me that if you write a handwritten letter to the network, they’ll look at that.

Chuck Me Fridays

Follow @ChuckMeFridays on Twitter!

How do you think the fandom helped with Chuck’s renewal?

On a microlevel [in-fandom], we are effective. On a macrolevel [masses], we are not. That is how the network looks at it. If it’s renewed, they will say it had to do with the fandom, but they don’t mean it.

A lot of people at the networks have an old school mentality. If they do old school marketing, what I call macromarketing, and they don’t see a return from that, they don’t expect a great return from the other type, from the new wave of marketing.

I remember a fandom-driven campaign where fans wanted to support the advertisers that supported Chuck, so they encouraged people to buy Subway and talk about Chuck on the comment cards. Was Subway’s subsequent product placement a coincidence?

That was a great idea of Wendy Farrington’s.

She latched onto an idea that the company involved – Subway – had already approached NBC about, saying, “Hey, we want to become more involved. We really love Chuck, and we love how the product was integrated in the episode. We loved the response.”

When Wendy nailed that without even knowing that was something NBC was already looking at, we got lucky. And from that point on, it elevated the Chuck fandom to a level it probably didn’t deserve.  But there’s a lot of people who have greatness thrust upon them and, you know, you either run from it or accept it.

What else has the fandom done?

The WeHeartChuck group did a Save Our Show thing that was a charity event online for the American Heart Association. In the month of May while we were waiting for the renewal or cancellation of Chuck, they raised $17,000 for the AHA.

Since you don’t think fan sites are helping getting their shows renewed, what is the power of a passionate following?

Our greatest effect is really within the fandom. That’s why I focused most of my energy from the beginning of season 3 to now on the charity efforts. Because there, we can raise some money.

[The AHA idea] was the best idea I had ever seen. I thought, “Wow, that’s amazing.” To be able to raise that kind of money. I have been in other fandoms where we raised a thousand in three months, and they had raised $17,000 in a month. It was crazy. I had never seen anything like it.

What businesses can learn from Chuckgasmic:

  • A terrible first impression or unappealing promotions can turn away a potential client who could be passionate about your products.
  • A personal, handwritten letter will draw more attention to your message than the printed word. In an increasingly digital world, personal communication is premium.
  • A small group working toward a common cause can have stunning results.
  • Being passionate is not nearly as valued as much as dollars that passion can bring into a business. Businesses should find ways to monetize the passion of supporters (referral benefits, networking).

Thanks so much to Mr. Lekay for his interview! Not only did he provide straight answers and opinion about the Chuck fandom and its involvement in real studio decisions, but he also had interesting insights on how the Nielsen Company works, why Twitter is the coolest thing ever, and where he thinks traditional television advertising models are going. I hope to feature his insights in another post soon.

What do you think of his take on fandoms? Do you participate in your favorite entertainment? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!



Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.

Comments

  1. Amy

    This was a really interesting post Jana! I’ve never watched Chuck before but, if people are this passionate about it perhaps I should! I’ve never visited a fandom website before for any shows or movies, with exception of The Office on Facebook. They seem like a great way for people to sound off about their likes and dislikes and if studios really wanted to know what their viewers are thinking talk about, they could easily find out! Great post!

    I love the Subway idea! That’s genius! Although, I do wonder what the individual managers thought of it when they recieved a couple hundred comment cards talking about the customers’ love of Chuck hahaha.

    • Jana Quinn

      Chuck is fantastic, and though the fan base is comparatively small compared to a lot of other shows, they’re very passionate. They’ve done a TON of charity work, too, which is incredible.

      Fan sites are a huge source of information for both creative and administrative types in the entertainment industry. I’d love to know how much they actually explore those places.

    • Amanda

      I’ve never seen the show either Amy. But I agree it sounds like a show worth checking out!

  2. Jill Tooley

    I love the handwritten letter idea! It’s a personal touch that makes efforts stand out even more. Emails and printed letters would probably slip unnoticed through the cracks, but handwritten correspondence would be less likely to disappear without being read. This tidbit is especially important for businesses, too. I get excited when I receive handwritten (or hand-signed) cards or letters instead of the stock responses with the fake-looking CEO signature at the bottom.

    Magnus seems like a smart guy. Plus, he’s ambitious and refuses to give up without a fight – I admire that. It’s funny that the show’s promos initially turned him off but now he’s a huge Chuck advocate! That further demonstrates the importance of a good promo…

    Solid interview!

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks, Jill!

      Handwritten letters are definitely eye-catching. I remember reading recently that someone who took the time to write out handwritten postcards got a much higher response rate on those than the pre-printed postcards. I’ll send you the link once I remember enough about it to search for it. ;)

  3. Mandy Kilinskis

    Fantastic interview, Jana!

    I really admire people like Magnus (and Annalisa and the Hob ladies) for the underlying passion of their work. It seems to be common that those with the most passion get less recognition than those with the most money, for example.

    As a Chuck fan, I really do appreciate fansites like these that help on the microlevel. Some passion and dedication is definitely better than none. It’s been shown time and time again that a fanbase can do wonders. After all, the original series of Star Trek was saved TWICE with handwritten letter campaigns from their fans. Even though the series didn’t reach the legendary/cult status until many years later, that hardcore group of fans made sure that there was something to actually make legendary.

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks, Mandy!

      I think Magnus’s main point with the biggest impact fandoms can make was in the charity sector. Chuck’s fanbase may not be huge for a no-brainer renewal every season, but they raise lots of money quickly for great causes.

      Although it won’t get a show renewed and may only bring a few more viewers in who’ve seen the charity efforts, it has a huge impact on real lives. THAT is the heart of fandom power.

      Excuse me, there’s something in my eye…

  4. Joseph Giorgi

    “If it’s renewed, they will say it had to do with the fandom, but they don’t mean it.”

    That’s honesty right there, and a great verbalization of how the networks and studios really feel. They’re in it for the bottom line, and very rarely will they allow for the fandoms to have any real input when it comes to behind-the-scenes decision-making.

    Still, it’s amazing what these fan sites can accomplish. The fact that WeHeartChuck was able to raise $17,000 for the AHA is pretty impressive. Looks like they’ve got another promotion going on right now, aiming to reach $15,000 for another cause. Hopefully they’ll get there.

    This post sort of reminds me of how the fans were largely responsible for bringing Family Guy back after its cancellation, though strong DVD sales had a lot to do with it.

    Great interview, Jana. These keep getting better and better. :)

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks, Joe! I’ll be wearing a fedora with a press pass soon. :)

      I really appreciated Magnus’s honesty. We’d love to think that if a bunch of people care a lot about a TV show that the networks will ignore the fact that it’s not profitable enough for them, but unfortunately, that’s not their job. The best fans can do is spread the word, build community, and get involved in efforts like the fundraising for the AHA.

    • Amanda

      Family Guy was cancelled? Wow, I thought that show was popular since it started. How many seasons are there?

  5. JPorretto

    I watched Chuck religiously until about midway through the 3rd season. Then I just…… stopped. I still don’t know why. It’s in my Netflix Queue though, so it’ll happen eventually.

  6. Magnus Anton Lekay

    Mind you, that $17,000 was for 1 month. WHC raised over $50,000 over the next year and a 10-year old named Bailey Browning has raised over $17,000 for St. Judes over the past year plus.

    Jana and I spoke at great length about this and of course only a small portion can make the article, but I feel strongly about fandoms utilizing their passion for charity over more selfish interest that, in reality, have almost no effect on their bottom line (saving their show). Fans want to believe their actions have grander results.

    Until there is a massive shift in the revenue generating paradigm of network TV, those Nielsen viewers will represent almost the entirety of interest to networks and advertisers. Meaning that fan word of mouth after the initial buzz of a new show (or sometimes a new season), is mostly ineffective. And when you are in season 4 of a bubble show, what can anyone expect from a small fan base? I think it is cruel to suggest to people that they can make a difference when they can’t. But they can make a difference in their charity efforts. How many lives did we save with the AHA charity drives? How many children’s lives did we change with the Operation Smile charity event, or young Bailey’s St. Jude efforts?

    That is the true power of a motivated fandom. And I think that is the true heart of the CHUCK fandom…. not this “save our show” stuff.

    • Jana Quinn

      Those numbers are AMAZING, Magnus. The Chuck fandom never ceases to astound me.

      It is a sad and uncomfortable truth that while creators and fans wish that passion could build sets, pay actors, and keep the lights on, the networks and studios (and whoever else has the purse-strings) need to look at cash. flow

      Until they can figure out a way to monetize excitement (perhaps a program where fans can watch multiple advertisements in order to “vote” for their favorite show?), the cost-return analysis will trump every time.

      You hit the nail right on the head, Magnus: the sense of community among fans and the charity efforts are the real fruits of fan sites rather than save-our-show efforts.

      But then, this conversation might be totally different if the horrifically flawed Nielsen system weren’t in charge…

  7. Kyle

    Great interview! I found the advice regarding writing letters by hand to be very interesting. I never thought of it that way, but it totally makes sense why that would garner more attention than yet another word processed document. Now I just have to get to work on my handwriting….

    • Jana Quinn

      Thanks! It also makes more of an impact on the suits because anyone can open a bunch of email accounts and send a letter, but handwritten letters take so much more time and money (a stamp is 44 freaking cents!), so it counts for more in their eyes.

  8. Jenna

    I think it’s awesome that Chuck fans have come together to raise money for charity! It’s awesome that they have recognized that even though their voice isn’t a priority for the network, that they can use their community for a bigger purpose! :)

    • Jana Quinn

      Absolutely. Although entertainment products are wonderful, the community building surrounding the support for that product is also fulfilling.

  9. Magnus Anton Lekay

    Let me clarify why the handwritten letter is one of the few effective means of getting the attention of executives who are teetering between renewing or cancelling your favorite show: they consider a handwritten letter to be equivalent to a Nielsen family viewer (more or less). As I suggested in 2009, when you write your letters be sure to note that you are NOT a Nielsen family member and wanted the network to know you existed. And never threaten to quit the network if they cancel your show. Do the opposite. Suggest you will patronize their network, advertisers, and services MORE if they keep it.

    • Jana Quinn

      Great tips, Magnus. I was part of the save Jericho peanut campaign. Although handwritten letters were part of it, the overwhelming phone calls and peanuts were also pretty significant.

      To be a fly on the wall at the CBS studio that week…

      I also like your reminder not to threaten to quit the network. Number one, they don’t care because you probably won’t (and you’re not a Nielsen family anyway, so they wouldn’t notice) and number two, positive reinforcement is psychologically superior to punishment (“quitting” the network) for persuasion.

      • Magnus Anton Lekay

        I think JERICHO will be the last major live action network show to be brought back from the dead by a fan campaign. Networks are more aware these days about the actual value of fan campaigns vs. the perceived value created by Internet buzz (that is not to say there aren’t executives who use whatever data they can grab to try to keep a show they love on the air).

        Until there is a new distribution model available for dying or dead shows, where studios and networks can make a profit by holding onto them (such as Netflix or some other avenue of distribution), I don’t know that save our show campaigns can be successful ever again. The cost of putting a show back into production, after cancellation, is too great and is without the necessary ROI to go through with it. Though, animated shows still have a chance since their re-entry costs are significantly lower than live action shows.

Leave a Comment

Copyright 2003 - 2014 Quality Logo Products, Inc., Registration No. TX7-524-201. All Rights Reserved.