Who needs the Kwik-E-Mart?
The answer to the immortal question posed in song by Apu Nahasapeemapetilon Jr.: The folks promoting the new Simpsons movie and your local 7-Eleven, that's who.
The convenience chain has joined forces with 20th Century Fox to convert a dozen of its top-selling stores into Kwik-E-Marts as part of a massive marketing blitz for The Simpsons Movie, which unspools in theaters worldwide July 27.
The Kwik-E makeover, which officially began Monday, not only includes the temporary replacement of 7-Eleven marquees but extends to store shelves, which will now be stocked with everything from Krusty O's cereal and Buzz Cola to WooHoo! Blue Vanilla Squishee Slurpees and pink frosted Sprinklicious doughnuts.
"The Krusty O's are flying off the shelves," laughs 7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris. "It's sort of reverse product placement. We're bringing the products to the people."
The stunt, of course, pays homage to the fictional Springfield emporium lorded over by Apu, the Indian immigrant proprietor who cheerfully spouts, "Thank you, come again!" to all customers, even the ones holding him up.
While most customers know The Simpsons and immediately get the joke upon seeing the Kwik-E-Mart signs, Chabris concedes there are a relative few so far who haven't watched the show who didn't.
"We had to explain it to them," she says.
Appropriately, 11 7-Elevens are getting the full Kwik-E-Mart treatment in the U.S.: stores in Bladensburg, Maryland; Burbank, California; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Henderson, Nevada; Los Angeles; Mountain View, California; New York City; Orlando; and Seattle. Additionally, there is one store in Canada that will take the wraps off its Homer-iffic renovation on Tuesday.
While your local outlet is likely one of the 6,400 7-Elevens that will retain its outer appearance, it will still be loaded with Simpsons-licensed inventory—an initiative the chain was more than happy to go along with after meeting with Fox executives over a year ago to discuss possible marketing ventures tied to the animated sitcom's big-screen debut.
Among the goodies dreamed up by Simpsons creator Matt Groening's company, Bongo Entertainment Group: a special-edition Radioactive Man comic book, which features Bart's favorite comic book hero, just for 7-Eleven.
The chain will also sell five collectible plastic Slurpee cups featuring scenes from the flick, along with six straws featuring removable character magnets of each Simpson family member and Apu.
And one lucky fan will have a chance to be drawn into a future Simpsons episode as part of 7-Eleven's "Get Animated" promotion. To play, customers who purchase select 7-Eleven sandwiches, grill items and Slurpees will receive coded game pieces with instructions on how to enter as well as win other Simpsons-themed prizes.
"What Simpsons fan wouldn’t want to appear on the show?" asks Rita Bargerhuff, 7-Eleven's senior director for national marketing. "While hundreds of famous celebrities have guest starred in the program through its 18-year history, this is the first time a fan will get the opportunity to hang out— in a cartoon sense—with Homer, Bart and the rest of the gang in Springfield."
Additionally, 7-Eleven's line of fresh foods will sport pictures of key Simpsons characters, including Homer uttering "Mmmm...sandwich."
The 7-Eleven chain is picking up the tab for the special promotion, which executives have estimated will cost the company around $10 million.
The suits hope the publicity will not only show that 7-Eleven is willing to lampoon itself, but will also score new cred among the targeted demo of males 18 to 28.
While the Kwik-E-Marts and Simpsons-branded foodstuff have been a hit in their first few days, one thing the Simpsons faithful shouldn't count on is quaffing Duff Beer. While Homer can't get enough of the Duff stuff, 7-Eleven ultimately decided against hawking the brew because the movie is PG-13.
Another concern for the company was whether the Kwik-E-Mart scheme might offend members of the Indian-American community who might feel Apu is a racist caricature. But 7-Eleven reports that many of its Indian employees have reacted positively to the idea.
Aside from the Kwik-E-Mart stunt, the Simpsons movie has also spawned several toy lines (including both plush and action figures), videogames and even rides at Universal theme parks.
Additionally, USA Today has joined with Fox to find the best "Springfield" in the country. Eponymous towns in Massachusetts, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, New Jersey, Florida, Michigan, Kentucky, Nebraska, Colorado, Louisiana and Vermont are vying for the chance to serve as the host for a special premiere of the movie.