Simpsons Movie: Innovative Marketing and Promotion

July 7, 2007–Like the irreverent Bart and Homer Simpson, Fox's promotional strategy for “The Simpsons Movie” breaks the rules.

The studio has lined up only four tie-in partners for its summer's tentpole film, and only one–Burger King–is a traditional major advertiser buying TV ads.

The other three partners–7-Eleven, JetBlue and Vans shoes–are running nontraditional promotional programs that will not generate the multimillion-dollar media buys typical of such films as “Spider-Man 3,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End” and “Transformers.”

Sony lined up seven partners for “Spider-Man” that spent more than $100 million on co-branded media alone; Disney teamed up with 13 partners for “At World's End,” the most for the studio on one film; and DreamWorks/Paramount Pictures partnered with eight brands for “Transformers” that spent $100 million-plus in media and other marketing support.

Fox could have selected any partner they wanted, so it's interesting they didn't pick the people with the biggest pocketbooks. It may mean they value the film's integrity and realize the value of nontraditional marketing and word-of-mouth.

Other promotions experts noted that there was incredibly stiff competition for tie-in partners this summer. Yet the decision to sign up a few mostly nontraditional partners who could implement more outside-the-box campaigns befitting “The Simpsons” irreverent style was intentional.

The essence of the TV show's anti-corporate humor makes it critical that the film not look as if it's selling out. With the show's enormous success and pop culture status built during the past two decades, Fox felt that it didn't need the additional media blitz provided by a film's promotional partners.

Fox declined comment, but in a news release announcing 7-Eleven's promotion of the movie, Lisa Licht, the studio's exec vice president of global marketing partnerships, said the promotional strategy was to partner with companies that would execute programs that have not been done before.

The studio and the filmmakers were selective and specific in terms of the creative content for tie-ins, feeling they need to be organic to the genius of the writing of the movie, and not too many partners can pull that off.

The task was to announce the movie as an event and creating an event. It wasn't about lining up as many partners as possible, it was about having the right partners in the right context and the right message.

Fox's marketing team has achieved at least some of its goals. The 7-Eleven chain made national headlines when it announced this week that it had transformed a dozen of its stores into Kwik-E-Marts, the convenience store in the Simpsons show, and that it would be selling real-life versions of such fictional “Simpsons” product favorites as KrustyO's cereal, Buzz Cola, Squishees (Slurpees), pink-frosted Sprinklicious donuts and a special edition of the Radioactive Man comic book read by Bart.

Only 12 stores have been converted to Kwik-E-Marts — a move Foster said took a “serious investment of time and resources” — but each of 7-Eleven's nearly 6,400 stores in the U.S. and Canada will carry more than 25 items that are either re-creations of products from the show or collectibles, including a dancing Homer doll, talking key chains, T-shirts and hats.

The 7-Eleven promotion also involves a sweepstakes offering customers who buy certain products the chance to win one of more than 711 prizes, with the grand-prize winner getting his or her likeness animated for an episode of the series. The promotion will be supported by radio ads starting Friday, July 6.

The 7-Eleven promotion has been a huge hit, with many Kwik-E-Mart-converted stores reporting a doubling of traffic and sales, according to a company spokeswoman.

Another promotional partnership for the movie is its tie-in with Vans, which hired 12 underground artists to design 14 styles of limited-edition “Simpsons”-inspired sneakers depicting their interpretations of the characters.

In total, 1,400 pairs of shoes will be created. They will go on sale July 14 for $100 a pair at 10 boutiques in Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, San Diego, Long Beach, Calif., Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and Honolulu.

The artists involved are Dave Flores, Futura, Gary Panter, Geoff McFetridge, Kaws, Mister Cartoon, Neckface, Sam Messer, Stash, Taka Hayashi, Todd James and Tony Munoz.

JetBlue is partnering with “The Simpsons Movie” for its first official film promotion, labeling itself the “official airline of Springfield,” the Simpsons' hometown. In addition to an online sweepstakes, JetBlue will promote the movie through direct mailings to its 5 million True Blue members, with posters and other movie memorabilia at airport locations and through its in-flight entertainment program. The airline already provides passengers with Fox movies and TV programming. This month, JetBlue is devoting an entire in-flight channel to “Simpsons” episodes.

Burger King, which has tie-ins with “Transformers” and “Spider-Man,” is running co-branded TV ads to support “The Simpsons Movie.” It will feature a line of “Simpsons” toys in kids meals, advertise its Ultimate Double Whopper as Homer's favorite whopper and feature in-store point-of-sale materials.