Monday, July 2, 2007

Apu Nahasapeemapetilon's Dream Comes True: Kwik-E-Marts Open All Over The US In Unique Simpson's Movie Promotion

Simpsons fans! All your dreams of visiting Apu’s Kwik-E-Mart are finally coming true! In what I would call a great cross-marketing campaign, the 7-11 chain is planning to convert 11 stores nationwide into Kwik-E’s, redoing storefronts to resemble the fictional shop’s famous blue, green and white exterior and stocking the shelves with products inspired by the show, including Frosted Krusty O’s cereal, Buzz Cola and Squishees. For fans of what has got to be the longest running animated show in TV history, this is the best piece of news ever. For a month, these stores and most other 7-Elevens in North America will sell items that previously existed only in the cartoon.

Selected stores and most of the 6,000-plus other 7-Elevens in North America will sell items that until now existed only on television: Buzz Cola, KrustyO's cereal and Squishees, the slushy drink knockoff of Slurpees. It is all part of a campaign to hype next month's opening of "The Simpsons Movie," the big-screen debut for the cartoon series, which loves to lampoon 7-Eleven as a store that sells all kinds of unhealthy snacks and is run by a man with a thick Indian accent named Apu.

Always wondered where Springfield really is? Does anyone really know? We’ll the folks at 7-Eleven do – in fact they’ve been working very closely with Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and have now opened their stores in

Burbank, CA
Chicago, IL
Dallas, TX
Denver, CO
Lake Buena Vista, FL/Orlando, FL
Las Vegas, NV/Henderson, NV
Los Angeles, CA
New York City, NY
San Francisco, CA/Mountain View, CA
Seattle, WA
Vancouver, BC/Coquitlam, BC
Washington, DC/Bladensburg, MD

For 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and Homer Simpson's creators at Gracie Films, the stunt is a cheap way to call attention to their movie, since 7-Eleven is bearing all the costs, which executives of the retail chain put at somewhere in the single millions. At 7-Eleven, they are hoping it shows the ubiquitous chain has a trait seen in few corporations — the ability to laugh at themselves. "We thought if you really want to do something different, the idea of actually changing stores into Kwik-E-Marts was over the top but a natural," said Bobbi Merkel, an executive with 7-Eleven's advertising agency, FreshWorks. "It shows they get the joke." The monthlong promotion has been rumored a long time — it is hard to keep a secret known by so many suppliers and franchisees — but 7-Eleven managed to keep the locations of the stores quiet until early Sunday morning. That is when the exteriors of 11 U.S. stores and one in Canada were flocked in industrial foam and given new signs to replicate the animated look of Kwik-E-Marts. 7-11 even changed their website's home page to resemble the Kwik-E-Mart style!

The Fox/7-Eleven deal is an example of a practice called reverse product placement. Instead of just putting products prominently in a movie or TV show, fake goods move from the screen to reality. In some cases, 7-Eleven has contracted with manufacturers of similar products to make their Kwik-E-Mart counterparts. Malt-O-Meal, the Northfield, Minnesota, cereal maker, will conjure up a recipe for KrustyO's, for example.

Just like the Simpsons, real people now have a chance to buy Buzz Cola and Squishees at the local Kwik-E-Mart. Existing products will simply be renamed. 7-Eleven's own Slurpee will be sold as a Squishee for the month. And the response to that has been overwhelming, especially here in the media city of Burbank. But they won't find Duff beer, the brand chugged by Homer Simpson. The movie will be rated PG-13, and selling a Simpson-themed beer "didn't seem to fit," said Rita Bargerhuff, a 7-Eleven marketing executive. "That was a tough call, but we want to make sure it's considered good, responsible fun."

The promotion, however, is not risk-free. The proprietor of Kwik-E-Mart is a man named Apu who speaks in a heavy Indian accent. He is based on a manager Groening encountered while shopping at a 7-Eleven in Los Angeles nearly 20 years ago and plays to stereotypes about convenience-store operators and Asian immigrants. Many of 7-Eleven's franchisees are Indian, company officials say, although they say they do not track exact numbers. Bargerhuff said they were "overwhelmingly positive" after hearing of the Kwik-E-Mart idea, but "it was not a 100 percent endorsement." "There was definitely a concern of offending people," she said. "But they seemed to understand that 'The Simpsons' makes fun of everybody. The vast majority saw this as a great opportunity." That is the case for Kumar Assandas, a 28-year-old franchisee whose parents immigrated from India. His store in suburban Las Vegas is one of the temporary Kwik-E-Marts. "I know it's a stereotype, but it doesn't bother me. Everybody knows it's a joke," Assandas said. "I'm a big Simpsons fan myself, and maybe subconsciously it even inspired me to become a 7-Eleven owner."

It's great to see a company with a sense of humor and great marketing smarts. Now I just can't wait to get a taste of “overpriced bandaid hotdogs that have been dropped on the floor.” Yummmmmeeeee!