It's the afternoon of July 2 and Matt Rand, an ACD at TracyLocke/Dallas, is in Burbank, Calif., helping out the staff at a 7-Eleven. "The lines are around the block," he says excitedly. "They've sold out of some things three and four times over already, and they're doing business that's 300% to 400% above normal. We're just trying to help the owner." The store is one of 11 7-Elevens in the U.S. that were turned, on July 1, into their Simpsons TV equivalent, the Kwik-E-Mart, in an elaborate and unusually ambitious cross-promotion with 20th Century Fox to hype the July 27 opening of The Simpsons Movie. And it seems that 7-Eleven, which has been metaphorically dumped on for ages by its fictional Kwik-E-Mart counterpart, may have, Forrest Gump-like, made lemonade with lemons, easily boosting its cool factor 300% to 400% above normal at the freshly animated stores.
The thoroughgoing transformation, applied liberally to the exterior, the interior and even employee uniforms, has turned the place into one big photo op of a cartoon attraction, according to Rand, and it appears as if the idea has hit a Homer with the bases loaded. "There really hasn't been any negative feedback," he says. "We put Marge on the side of the building, and she's facing the door, she's not facing the street; a rabid fan complained, 'Why is she facing that way?' That's literally the most negative thing I've heard. It doesn't get any better than this."
The project is officially attributed to FreshWorks, a virtual agency network that the Omnicom Group put together a few years ago to service 7-Eleven, but it's spearheaded by TracyLocke. "We're fortunate enough to do most of 7-Eleven's brand work, and this is just an amazing opportunity," Rand adds. "Not only haven't I done anything like this before, I don't think anything quite like this has been done before. Turning a 7-Eleven into a Kwik-E-Mart is a natural creative idea if you're doing a promotion with The Simpsons Movie, but actually pulling it off, especially on this scale, is something else entirely."
Bringing "cartoon properties into the real world," as he describes it, extends to reverse product placement (? la Forrest Gump's Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.), with some Simpsons products ? Duff beer excepted, as you'd expect ? sold in the stores. "We've partnered with private bottlers to make Buzz Cola," notes Rand. "We've partnered with Malt-O-Meal to make KrustyO's cereal. We put them on the shelves and we cannot keep them on the shelves. As I speak, there's a line of people wrapped around the building waiting for an emergency shipment of both those items. We've also renamed the Slurpee the Squishee, and the bakery has made a special pink donut with rainbow sprinkles, the very donut that's in The Simpsons Movie logo. It's Homer's donut of choice, and now it's everybody's."
Too bad this promotion ends with July, huh? Wouldn't it be nice if 7-Eleven could just remain a Kwik-E-Mart forever? "That's not a bad idea," Rand muses. "Last night, the parking lot was filled with teenagers, and they kept coming up to me and saying, 'You guys should keep it like this all the time. Don't go back to 7-Eleven. We'd be here every night.' "