20th Century Fox

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Lisa Licht and Simpsons promotion memorabilia
Lisa Licht and Simpsons promotion memorabilia
When it comes to marketing a film, the game may have changed after this past summer's release of The Simpsons Movie. Bringing Homer, Bart, Marge, Lisa and Maggie to the big screen, along with the rest of the deranged denizens of Springfield, was always going to be a very, very big deal. But Fox, along with its quiver of creative partners, surpassed even the wildest of marketing expectations. Between Burger King's online "Simpsonizer," JetBlue being named the "Official Airline of Springfield" and, of course, the transformation of 7-Eleven franchises into Kwik-E-Marts, the amount of enthusiastic public approval and participation Fox received was staggering. Twentieth Century Fox executive vice-president, global partnerships Lisa Licht says the success of the overall campaign came from a combination of great ideas, bold collaborations and a commitment to creative thinking.

"You've got to strike a chord," says Licht. "And that might sound so trite but it's really understanding what your brand or product is. I don't consider most movies a brand. The Simpsons is a brand; X-Men is a brand; A Night At The Museum is a movie. But either way it's about understanding what your product is and finding a clever, memorable way for people to experience it." While a majority of the general public knows who the Simpsons are, Licht says that fact itself presented some unique challenges. "How can you experience The Simpsons brand that's tried so many different things, in a way you never had before?" she says. "We came up with ideas that were sort of pie-in-the-sky—if partners would execute, great, if they weren't willing to reach for the sky with us, then we moved on."

Everyone involved in the Kwik-E-Mart/7-Eleven mash-up, including Simpsons writers Matt Groening and James Brooks, was excited, but no one anticipated just how receptive the convenience store chain would be to the idea. "I believe the key to anything you do is to have passion for it and that will catch on with other people," says Licht. "So our passion for this passed on to [Tracy Locke, 7-Eleven's agency, which was responsible for executing the campaign] who passed it on to 7-Eleven. In fact, they said to 7-Eleven, 'If this doesn't work, fire us as your agency.' That's pretty fabulous."

The Woo-Hoo JetBlue plane
The Woo-Hoo JetBlue plane
Once 7-Eleven was on board, there were still some key issues to work out. Licht says that both Groening and Brooks were very enthusiastic but also particular in how it should be done. "(Groening) said, 'The key is to really deliver to the fans and also make it enjoyable to everyone else. So when the super fan is walking through 7-Eleven, there's private jokes in it for them.' Jim Brooks also said the stuff has to be quality, and not falling apart in two days, and it's got to be really great and clever. [Another] big challenge was how many stores do you do? Is one enough? What's the right number to make an impact? I don't know that 12 in North America was the right number but, mission accomplished."

As for the issue of more than one agency owning up to the mash-up idea (Cough! Leo Burnett. Cough!), Licht says, "People ask, 'Did you come up with the 7-Eleven idea?' I did come up with the 7-Eleven idea, along with about 200 other people." She goes on to discuss the wealth of similar creative ideas that were coming from both Fox and its partners. "The day before Burger King called, our head of animation called me and said, 'We just came up with a great idea – what if people could Simpsonize their MySpace pages?' But when [Crispin, Porter Bogusky] came up with the Simpsonizer, everyone was blown away— Matt Groening, Jim Brooks, everyone."

The original idea for the JetBlue collaboration was to ask the airline to rename itself JetYellow for the month of the film's release. That didn't happen, but it did become Springfield's official airline, and JetBlue christened one of its aircrafts the "Woo-Hoo!
JetBlue!" Licht says, "That was the pie-in-the-sky idea as well and we worked and brainstormed with them. [Now] for that plane's entire life, it will be called that."

The myriad of partnerships and sponsors involved in such a campaign is not specific to a Simpsons-sized release. Licht says this kind of collaboration is essential when marketing and promoting entertainment today. "When you see how many movies are opening every weekend now, it's critical. It used to be there would be a couple big openings every month and now it's a couple big movies every Friday. What these partnerships do is help your movie rise up on their isolated weekend." But Licht warns that it can't be partnerships for partnerships' sake, reiterating the need to know the product and how to best market it. Another important factor is finding partners who are willing to take a risk for the reward. "So much media is being thrown at all of us all day, everyday, that if you want to stand out and get noticed you've got to take risks." In this case, she says the risk-taking resulted in "the highlight of my career." The next question is "Can you do that with other brands?," she says. "I just don't know the answer yet. We're all going to have to try."

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