When you think of heroes, you probably picture Batman or Wonder Woman. Nobody ever gives credit to Subway, the hero of almost-cancelled television shows. Yes, that Subway. The one with over 40,000 locations, $10.41 billion in annual sales, and a really delicious Italian Herb & Cheese bread.

The fast food chain, which has been well-loved for years, is personally responsible for keeping two NBC properties, Chuck and Community, on the air.

Get yourself a sandwich and let’s dive into these two collaborations, and along the way, learn a thing or two about the power of product placement.

Chuck & Subway

Chuck was on the brink of disaster and NBC was getting ready to pull the plug. Leave it to a foot long sub to save the day!

Fans did everything they could with their “Save Chuck” campaign, which included bombarding NBC and Warner Brothers with emails, petitions, and fan sites. Subway saw this influx in interest and offered the show money to start featuring their food on the show.

Subway’s interference was enough to buy Chuck two more seasons on the network and get a bunch of fans coming into the restaurant as a way to say, “thank you.”

Community & Subway

Community was another NBC favorite that was about to come off the air. Subway came to the rescue once again!

The fourth season of Community was the direct result of fans ranting and raving on social media. The second episode had a cameo appearance by, you guessed it, another Subway sandwich! There was even a character named Rick who was such a successful spokesperson for the brand; he literally turned into a sandwich.

Creator Dan Harmon held a press conference saying that Subway pretty much let him do whatever he wanted, as long as he featured their subs. He went all in and showed Subway any chance he could on the show, to much success.

It’s reported in Ad Age that Subway spent nearly $22 million advertising on NBC in 2007. That budget went entirely to keeping Chuck and Community in circulation.

It turns out, though, the collaborations also benefited Subway more than they could have anticipated. In fact, according to Tony Pace, the Chief Marketing Officer for Subway at the time, the restaurant “experienced double digit gains” after showing up in the two shows. A sandwich has never sounded so good! 

Where Are They Now?

It’s been over a decade since Subway, Chuck, and Community worked together. Here’s an update on where they’re at now:

Chuck

After five seasons, Chuck was officially forced to pull the plug. Still, that hasn’t stopped fans from loving the show. At the Calgary Expo in 2019, star Zachary Levi confirmed that a movie is in the works. The possibility of this seems more likely than ever thanks to streaming services, successful show-to-movies like El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, and the continued interest of dedicated fans.

Community

Community squeaked out five seasons on NBC, and one disastrous one on Yahoo!, before it was time to call it quits. The show’s stars, meanwhile, have moved on to bigger and more exciting projects like Donald Glover’s rapping alias Childish Gambino, Joel McHale’s own Netflix show, “The Joel McHale Show,” and Alison Brie’s star-marking turn on the female wrestling show, “GLOW.”

Subway

Subway is still selling a bunch of sandwiches every day and killing it in the product placement game. Most recently, their subs were featured on Hawaii 5.0 and all over Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It’s all working great as the chain is one of the fastest-growing in the restaurant industry with over 40,000 stores in 100 countries around the world.

People are still eating delicious sub sandwiches as they binge-watch Chuck and Community. It just goes to show a great product never really goes out of style!

Why is Product Placement Valuable?

Subway isn’t the only brand out there that benefits from a well-placed mention in a TV show or movie. Any company, big or small, is wise to look into product placement as a marketing tactic.

The numbers don’t lie!

As a recap, here’s what you need to know: 

  • 60% of viewers feel more positive about brands they recognized in a placement.
  • A brand will experience 20% more awareness if it’s featured in a show or movie.
  • $11.44 billion was spent on product placement in the United States in 2019.
  • The market for TV product placement specifically is at about $7 billion.
  • 52% of Americans trust product placement ads and 49% took action after seeing the ad.
  • People between the ages of 35 and 44 are most likely to recognize a product placement.
  • Network TV will account for 70% of the product placement market, but Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu are fast-growing.
  • The average time of a product placement on camera is 6.2 seconds.

Product placement is a proven way to get positive attention, and in the case of Community and Chuck, can even save your favorite shows from a tragic demise.

Take a page from Subway’s book and try this advertising strategy. It could just be the best think since sliced bread… or at the very least, a $5 foot long.

About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over three years of experience in the industry. Her passion for writing has led to a BA in English & Communications from Aurora University and work published for the Advertising Specialty Institute and The Bolingbrook Sun Times.