For a fictional character from a TV show that hasn’t premiered yet, Chuck Bartowski sure has a lot of online friends.
Over the past few weeks, profiles featuring the uber-nerd at the center of NBC’s action dramedy “Chuck” have been popping up on a slew of social-networking sites. Thanks to NBC and producers from the Warners Bros. show, TV’s Chuck (played by Zachary Levi) has personal videos on YouTube, a set of photos on Flicker, a personalized radio station spinning his favorite tunes on Last.fm, a webcam on Stickam, a dating profile on Geek2Geek.com and accounts on sites as diverse as Xbox Live, Facebook and Ning.
While profiles of fictional characters on major sites such as MySpace are nothing new (and yes, Chuck has one there, too), the difference with “Chuck” is the lengths to which NBC has gone to make this character a presence on the Web. At last count, the Peacock had posted a Chuck Bartowski profile on nearly a dozen social-networking sites, all featuring detailed info revealing everything from Chuck’s favorite TV characters (“Bull” from “Night Court”) to his musical preferences (anything unsuitable for an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”).
“It was important for us to give potential viewers a chance to get to know who Chuck is — his personality, his friends, his work life — the kind of information that social-networking sites do such a good job of showcasing,” says NBC U chief marketing officer John Miller. “We wanted to make Chuck a living personality in a virtual world.”
NBC is doing some traditional marketing for “Chuck,” including print ads and DVD giveaways. But with promo budgets tight, the Peacock (like other nets) is looking for inexpensive ways to maximize its marketing muscle — and the online “friends” NBC is harvesting cost the net next to nothing.
Miller says the “Chuck” viral campaign is “much different than building a profile page for Hiro from ‘Heroes’ or Dwight from ‘The Office,’ ” since Chuck Bartowski is unknown to almost all viewers. That’s why NBC’s on-air campaign for the show has been directing auds to an official NBC website, Chuckssecret.com, where a virtual desktop leads them to all of Chuck’s various online profiles.
“We hoped that as people poked around and found these profiles, they would start to get lost in Chuck’s world — who was this guy and what about him was going to make him special?” Miller says.
NBC is betting that the buzz from so many profiles will build as more users discover Chuck on their favorite networking websites.
“What’s so great about social networking is that it is inherently viral,” Miller says. “When someone adds Chuck as a friend on Facebook, you are now getting exposure to all that person’s friends as well.”
Of course, the target aud of younger viewers is inherently skeptical about marketing ploys like NBC’s “Chuck” campaign. If the online profiles seem too fake or too commercial, they could actually turn off viewers.
That’s one reason why NBC and Warner Bros. have been working closely with “Chuck” exec producers Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak to make sure online Chuck matches up with the characteristics of TV Chuck, a nerdy electronics salesman who somehow ends up as a super spy for the government.
“Josh and Chris are very much involved and have provided all the essential information to launch the sites and keep them active,” Miller says. “The music Chuck listens to on Last.fm, his groups in Facebook, his favorite movies on MySpace were all provided by the show.”
While Schwartz and Fedak are overseeing the broad outlines of profiles, they’ve tapped “Chuck” scribe Zev Borow to serve as point person for the sites. While it’s extra work for the show’s production team, Schwartz isn’t complaining.
“These are no longer ploys but a necessary part of the 360 viewing experience for the viewer,” Schwartz says. “(And) some of the supporting characters who we don’t get to service as much as we like to (now) have the chance to shine in these alterna-mediums.”
So far, producers have helped create several online-only videos featuring Chuck and his friends, while also posting Twitter messages and pictures from Chuck’s visit to Comic-Con last month. Even after “Chuck” is launched next month, Miller and Schwartz expect the Chuck Bartowski sites to evolve, with new content being added frequently.
“Not all profiles (will) continue on past launch, (but) the goal is to keep the most active ones updated regularly,” Miller says. “I think once the show starts, the opportunities grow with the show and can provide an entirely new interactive way of engaging the audience.”
Miller and Schwartz expect that fans of the show could ultimately take over the sites, in addition to building their own “Chuck” Internet tributes (several already exist).
NBC is planning to give some of its other fictional characters a presence on various social network sites, though none will have the sort of profile Chuck has right now. Miller said NBC realizes it needs to be careful about how it uses this particular marketing tool.