Like it or not, advertising makes the TV world go ‘round. It doesn’t matter how good a show is, if a network can’t get advertisers to pony up the dough, the show won’t last (R.I.P. Firefly). This is demonstrated in Subway restaurant’s successful product placement with the shows “Chuck” and “Community.” The restaurant chain helped guarantee that these NBC favorites stayed on the air, much to the happiness of their devoted fans.
Having worked at a Subway for 3 years during college, I was pretty sure at the time that the company was the physical embodiment of all that is evil in this world. However, aside from our monthly corporate “compliance” visit, where Subway nitpicked every possible thing we were doing wrong (we once got scolded because our fake plants were hanging 6 inches too low… true story), the majority of my distaste for Subway came from rude and flat-out awful customers.
But there was always one group of customers who were polite and down right enjoyable customers to work with:
“Chuck sent us,” was a recurring phrase that befuddled every employee. Nobody who worked there knew what it meant.
It wasn’t until I was done with college and living in Los Angeles that I started watching the show Chuck. I immediately loved it! Right then I realized that Subway had actually saved Chuck!
After season 2, the show was in limbo, not feeling so hot having just seen two of its network cohorts get the axe. But then something happened that changed the course of history forever: The Rise of the Nerds!
Let’s face it, when nerds get behind something, the world can be shaken upside down. They’ve got a ton of disposable income and a bunch of time to dedicate to their favorite things. They decided Chuck (a show about a computer nerd getting super powers) was one of their favorite things. They flooded NBC and Warner Brothers with emails, petitions, and anything else they could think of to try and save the show.
Enter the Footlong Sub in shining armor! Subway wanted to capitalize on this market and offered the show a large amount of money (undisclosed to Google searches) to integrate Subway ads into the actual show as opposed to just commercials (Buzzword of the day: SYNERGY).
The show wasn’t sly or timid with these advertisements. In fact, they were impressively blatant.
The money Subway offered was enough to get Chuck a third season. And a fourth. And half of a fifth, before the show finally logged off earlier this year. As a thank you, Chuck fans around the country flooded Subway, giving the chain a full return on their investment.
NOW, THEY’VE DONE IT AGAIN.
Another show, NBC’s Community, wasn’t cancelled, per se, but was pulled from the network schedule. Disregarding the fact that NBC has issues when it comes to making a functional schedule, this usually does not bode well for a show’s return, and certainly not for a renewal.
Same as Chuck, die-hard fans took to Twitter and the interwebs to voice their outrage. Much to the delight of the TV Nerd Kingdom, Community was brought back to finish their season (a 4th is completely dependent on how a very public feud between creator Dan Harmon and star Chevy Chase plays out).
In the second episode back, I bet you’ll never guess what appeared in the Greendale Community College cafeteria… Think you’ve figured it out? A Subway.
Harmon explained this by basically saying Subway paid a lot of money and told him he could do what he wants.
Unlike Chuck, Harmon worked Subway into the actual storyline, not just stopping the show dead in its tracks for an ad within the show.
It’s no doubt that the money Subway gave was a big reason Community was brought back. It gives NBC all the benefits of keeping a show on, with less financial risk.
Only time will tell how long Subway will be integrated into Greendale. It may be for a small arc, or for the remainder of the series.
We’re accustomed to product placement. It’s becoming as American as apple pie or a footlong steak and cheese with double-extra “light” mayo with a super-sized Diet Coke. Subway has simply taken it to an innovative new level. With another successful campaign of this nature, we might end up seeing a slew of advertising integration into our favorite TV shows.
That’s certainly going to get annoying, but since Subway has helped two of my favorite shows, I’ll allow it for now.