2008 Creativity Award Winner: 20th Century Fox: The Simpsons Movie Marketing Campaign

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Supersizing seems to be the American solution to selling everything from fast food to SUVs, but in the case of The Simpsons Movie marketing campaign, that strategy proved to be as sweet as the sprinkles on Homer's favorite pink donut. 20th Century Fox, under the leadership of former EVP/global partnerships Lisa Licht (now at Hasbro), knew it had to go big last year when it came to promoting the first family of pop culture's silver screen debut. The most buzzed about components of the campaign included the 7-Eleven effort that transformed 12 stores overnight into real-life Kwik-E-Marts; Burger King's addictive "Simpsonizer" website, created out of Crispin Porter + Bogusky and Equity Marketing; and the JetBlue partnershipthat named the air carrier "The Official Airline of Springfield" and christened one of its fleet the "Woo-hoo, JetBlue!" plane. But Fox didn't stop there. With USA Today, it issued a competition to determine which of the 14 U.S. towns named Springfield was the Springfield (Vermont's, it turned out). And Fox even rolled out a fantastic and fast-selling effort for the cool kids. The studio partnered with Vans and enlisted a team of artists with serious street cred to design Simpsons-themed shoes.

Q&A with Lisa Licht, former Executive Vice-President, Global Partnerships, 20th Century Fox; General Manager, Entertainment & Licensing, Hasbro

When you first set out to promote The Simpsons Movie, what was step one? Did you have any previous experiences from which you took inspiration?

Licht: This will date me, but when we launched Titanic internationally for Home Entertainment, we made sure that every element of the marketing campaign was bigger and better than anything ever done previously. Huge department stores around the world dressed the outside of their buildings so you felt that you were literally boarding the Titanic. It was unreal. I wanted to recreate that scale. Every element of Simpsons had to be never done before, from the promotions, to the standees in theaters. No one had ever seen anything like it.

Compared to other movie launches you've done, can you give us an idea of the scale of this project?

Licht: Each executive in promotions works on several movies simultaneously. We had a small team dedicated to The Simpsons Movie. It was the most time-consuming project, as everyone's attention to detail was extremely specific.

How, if at all, was this effort different from other promotions you have done?

Licht: The filmmakers were true partners in the process every step of the way. We presented a strategy for promotions 20 months in advance of the film release. Part of the strategy was a list of partners and some "never been done before" ideas. We worked cohesively from that point forward.

What were the biggest challenges you faced on this particular project?

Licht: The biggest challenge was getting the materials to the partners with everyone's POV included. It was also challenging to get everyone to the same place of approval on each element. The key was getting clear feedback in a timely manner, and keeping all materials moving forward. There are many Simpsons experts at Fox and we tapped into those resources for help, advice, ideas and creative.

In general, what are the biggest challenges when it comes to movie marketing today?

Licht: Four to eight movies open each weekend. You must break through the clutter. On this project, we had the double whammy that the show has been on the air for 17 years, several times a week, and we needed to tap into what everyone loves about The Simpsons and make it clear that this was a movie, for the first time ever—The Simpsons on the big screen.

In carrying out some of these initiatives and partnerships with Burger King, Jet Blue, Vans, etc., did you feel like you were taking any major risks?

Licht: Well, our partners were culturally cool and clever. They didn't all have millions of dollars of TV advertising. The publicity from both the partners and the studio were the key to the event-like way the movie arrived in the culture.

What role do you think creativity plays in movie marketing—and The Simpsons Movie marketing in particular? What does brand creativity need to do now in order to be truly effective?

Licht: You must know the brand, know the core fan and exceed their expectations while delighting non-fans. Creativity is key. Again, several movies open each weekend. The more arresting the creative, the better the movie will do.

What did you learn about creativity and branding from the agency partners and the other clients you partnered with?

Licht: Everyone was so determined to deliver on the "never been done before" mantra, while positioning The Simpsons Movie as the summer event, and oh yeah, they needed to sell Vans, or Slurpees or Whoppers. The agency partners were determined to wow the most creative minds in TV and film, and they did. They pulled out all of the stops and were inspired by how Fox was approaching the film.

What kind of results did you see from the overall effort? Which component of the launch campaign was the most successful?

Licht: People lined up the night before to buy the Vans shoes, they literally stood in line for 30 days to see Kwik-E-Mart, and millions of people went online to Simpsonize themselves. A key was waiting until all of the big action movies opened before we did anything. Then, July 2, 7-Eleven launched and the lines started to form and the TV crews arrived, all within the first hour. It was mind-boggling.

Did you learn anything from the promotional push that will affect the way you approach future projects?

Licht: Less is more. Creative is king. Make an impact. Focus.

A lot of your projects generated great PR for themselves, aside from making noise about the movie. What role does PR for the promotional campaign itself have when it comes to thinking up your marketing ideas?

Licht: It depends on the program, but in this case, it was critical to the success. Our PR teams started working with the partners' PR teams six months in advance. Nothing was left to chance.

What was your favorite aspect of the whole launch?

Licht: Seeing the explosion around the country as 7-Eleven began the conversion.The news coverage was mind-boggling. The cultural swell was overwhelming. A few months later, I went to a meeting at a retailer's headquarters and all of the employees had Simpsonized themselves. And there was a wall dedicated to everyone as a Simpsons [character]. When you've made such an impact, it is a spectacular feeling.

If you had done anything differently, what would it have been?

Licht: Stay calmer through the process. It will all work out.

Check out more of the 2008 Creativity Award winners.
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