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.

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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.

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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.