BLADENSBURG, Md. (AdAge.com) -- Let's just say you were running into the 7-Eleven to use the ATM, and you didn't notice the sign spanning the storefront: "Thank you for loitering. Please come again." Or the ones in front of the parking spaces: "5 Minute Parking. Violators Will Be Executed."
Or the one over the ATM itself: "First Bank of Springfield. Misplacing Decimal Points Since 194.5"
Or maybe you were ducking in for a sandwich ("Every item guaranteed fresh or your money grudgingly refunded") and were oblivious to the fact that the traditional 7-Eleven red, orange and green had been replaced by sickly yellow and tan. After all, to patronize a convenience store you don't have to scrutinize it.
But surely, no matter how distracted you were, at the cash register you'd eventually realize that all the help in the store is smocked up exactly in the style of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon Jr., Ph.D., who as everybody knows is the proprietor not of the Bladensburg 7-Eleven but of the only convenience store in Springfield, U.S.A.
Run back outside and check out the storefront one more time. Ay, caramba! This is Kwik-E-Mart.
Yes, thanks to the miracle of cross-promotion, you have blundered into a parallel cartoon universe. For a brief moment, you are a Simpson. And it is sooooooo great. Grab a box of KrustyO's cereal, or a six-pack of Buzz Cola or an ice-cold Squishee. And then, for a taste of life imitating art imitating life, head for checkout, where there is no under-employed Indian immigrant named Apu on duty, but there is an Ethiopian immigrant named Getachew. ("They're asking me to say 'I Apu,'" he offers.)
There's also, naturally, a police cruiser out front, although the cop's not pigging out on pink-glazed doughnuts -- "on principle," he says. "We're a new generation of officer." The next-generation Chief Wiggum declines to provide his name, but does volunteer how much fun he had buying KrustyO's. So did Melissa Jones, a local teenager, who declared, unprompted, "It's Krusty-O-Licious!"
Yeah, it's a fun stunt -- in the service of the coming "The Simpsons Movie" and the 7-Eleven chain that for 18 years Kwik-E-Mart has been sending up. Yes, to quote Homer, it's "a wonderful, maaaaa-gi-cal" promotion that advances two businesses at once. And very, very well.
Granted, only a few thousand people are likely to personally experience each of the dozen Kwik-E-Marts in the U.S. and Canada, but the word-of-mouth on this event and the publicity are already enormous. Thousands of stories -- print and broadcast, local and national -- were produced within four days of the stores' transformation. All, no doubt, at less cost than producing one spot for one airing on "American Idol."
Not a lot of dough. And, therefore, not a lot of "D'oh!"
The obvious principal beneficiary will be 20th Century Fox, but the real credit goes to 7-Eleven for taking such an astonishing risk. Actually, there probably was no real risk, but the universal corporate mentality (outside of ESPN) is that permitting anything short of deification of the brand -- much less self-ridicule -- is tantamount to suicide. They've done expired-baby-food jokes on the Simpsons, for crying out loud. Permitting the world's foremost 7-Eleven satirists to satirize the brand with 7-Eleven money on 7-Eleven property is among the most courageous acts in marketing history.
The courage will be rewarded. If you wish to borrow interest, you could do worse than "The Simpsons," probably the greatest comedy in TV history. As Apu once said, "Thank you for knocking over my inventory. Please come again."