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NEW YORK — Just like the irreverent Bart and Homer Simpson, 20th Century Fox’s promotional program for “The Simpsons Movie” seems to break all the rules.
The studio has lined up only four tie-in partners for what is considered to be one of the summer’s tentpole films, and only one — Burger King — is a traditional major advertiser buying TV ads to support the film.
The other three partners — 7-Eleven, JetBlue and Vans shoes — are running nontraditional promotional programs that might be generating headlines but not the multimillion-dollar media buys typical of such films as “Spider-Man 3,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “Transformers.”
Just this summer, Sony Pictures lined up seven partners for “Spider-Man” that reportedly spent more than $100 million on co-branded media alone; Disney teamed up with 13 partners for “At World’s End,” the most for the studio on one film; and DreamWorks/Paramount Pictures partnered with eight brands for “Transformers” that reportedly spent $100 million-plus in media and other marketing support.
“Usually with most films today, what the studios are looking for are partners that are going to come on board with lots of media dollars,” said Jeff Greenfield, principal of branded entertainment studio Buzz Nation. “I’m sure (Fox) could have selected any partner they wanted, so it’s interesting they didn’t pick the people with the biggest pocketbooks. It tells me they value the integrity of the film and they realize the value of nontraditional marketing and word-of-mouth.”
Other promotions and marketing experts noted that there was incredibly stiff competition for tie-in partners this summer. Yet it appears that the decision to sign up a few mostly nontraditional partners who could implement more outside-the-box campaigns befitting “The Simpsons’ ” irreverent style was intentional.
The very essence of the TV show’s anti-corporate humor makes it critical for the film to not look as if it is selling out. And with the show’s enormous success and pop culture status built during the past 20 years, Fox apparently felt that it didn’t need the additional media blitz usually provided by a film’s promotional partners.
20th Century Fox declined comment, but in a news release announcing 7-Eleven’s promotion with the movie, Lisa Licht, the studio’s executive vp global marketing partnerships, said the promotional strategy was to “partner with companies that would execute programs that have never been done before.”
A source close to the movie’s promotions said that the studio and the filmmakers were “extraordinarily selective and specific in terms of the creative content” for tie-ins. “They need to be organic to the genius of the writing of the movie, and not too many partners can pull that off,” the source said. “The studio is not building a brand or a franchise from scratch. The task here was announcing the movie as an event and creating an event. It wasn’t really about lining up as many partners as possible, it was about having the right partners in the right context and the right message.”
The source added that “The Simpsons Movie” deserves promotional programs that are “out of the box. There was some real creative thought and a different approach, not the same old same old.”
Indeed, it seems as though Fox’s marketing team has achieved at least some of its goals. 7-Eleven made national headlines when it announced this week that it had transformed a dozen of its stores into Kwik-E-Marts, the convenience store frequented by the Simpsons in the show, and that it would be selling real-life versions of such fictional “Simpsons” product favorites as KrustyO’s cereal, Buzz Cola, Squishees (Slurpees), pink-frosted Sprinklicious donuts and a special edition of the Radioactive Man comic book read by Bart.
7-Eleven said it believes the promotion marks the first time a “major company has partnered with a fictional entity to bring it to life.”
“It’s reverse product placement,” 7-Eleven chief marketing officer Doug Foster said. “Fox wanted to do something that had never been done before and wanted to bring part of ‘The Simpsons’ to life and thought what better company to work with than 7-Eleven, the inspiration for Kwik-E-Mart.”
Only 12 stores have been converted to Kwik-E-Marts — a move Foster said took a “serious investment of time and resources” — but each of 7-Eleven’s nearly 6,400 stores in the U.S. and Canada will carry more than 25 items that are either re-creations of products from the show or collectibles, including a dancing Homer doll, talking key chains, T-shirts and hats.
The 7-Eleven promotion also involves a sweepstakes offering customers who buy certain products the chance to win one of more than 711 prizes, with the grand-prize winner getting his or her likeness animated for an episode of the series. The promotion will be supported by radio ads starting today.
So far, the 7-Eleven promotion has been a huge hit, with many Kwik-E-Mart-converted stores reporting a doubling of traffic and sales, according to a company spokeswoman.
“People are going crazy here,” said Tony Nguyen, franchisee for a Kwik-E-Mart/7-Eleven in Dallas. “We’ve sold thousands of ‘Simpsons’ products already, and we keep running out.”
He said that in the first two days of the promotion, his average daily sales of $8,000 soared to $17,000 and $18,000, respectively, with nearly all of the increase — $7,000 — coming from sales of “Simpsons” product.
Kumar Assandas, franchisee for the Kwik-E-Mart/7-Eleven in Henderson, Nev., said that sales and traffic were up by about 30%. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Things are flying off the shelves,” he said. According to franchisees, the top-selling “Simpsons” product is KrustyO’s, followed by Buzz Cola and the Radioactive Man comic.
Another out-of-the-box promotional partnership for the movie is its tie-in with Vans, which hired 12 underground artists to design 14 different pairs of limited-edition “Simpsons”-inspired sneakers depicting their own interpretations of the animated characters.
“Fox approached us, but we jumped on it thinking it would be a great idea,” Vans spokesman Chris Overholser said. “We knew the artists would be into it too. Fox wanted to reach an influential young sort of hipster you just don’t reach with a Burger King or McDonald’s.”
In total, 1,400 pairs of shoes will be created, with about 100 per artist. They will go on sale July 14 for $100 a pair at 10 boutique shops in Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, San Diego, Long Beach, Calif., Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and Honolulu. “We’re thinking they’ll sell out that weekend,” Overholser said, noting that there was a “huge buzz” about the shoes on the Internet.
The artists involved are Dave Flores, Futura, Gary Panter, Geoff McFetridge, Kaws, Mister Cartoon, Neckface, Sam Messer, Stash, Taka Hayashi, Todd James and Tony Munoz.
For its part, JetBlue is partnering with “The Simpsons Movie” for its first official film promotion, labeling itself the “official airline of Springfield,” the Simpsons’ hometown. “We share a sense of humor with ‘The Simpsons,'” JetBlue spokeswoman Jenny Dervin said. ” ‘The Simpsons’ poke fun at corporate America, and so do we.”
In addition to an online sweepstakes, JetBlue will promote the movie through direct mailings to its 5 million True Blue members, with posters and other movie collateral at airport locations and through its in-flight entertainment program. The airline already provides passengers with Fox movies and TV programming. This month, JetBlue is devoting an entire in-flight channel to “Simpsons” episodes.
Burger King, which has tie-ins with “Transformers” and “Spider-Man” this summer, is running co-branded TV ads to support “The Simpsons Movie.” It will feature a line of “Simpsons” toys in kids meals, advertise its Ultimate Double Whopper as Homer’s favorite whopper and feature in-store point-of-sale materials.
A Burger King spokeswoman declined to provide further details about the promotion but said: ” ‘The Simpsons Movie’ is a really good fit for our customers because we have the superfan — our core customer who skews male 18-34. This is a great movie for that fan base.”
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