At the beginning of this month, 7-Eleven transformed a dozen stores into Kwik-E-Marts, the fictional trademark convenience store on The Simpsons, in the latest case of reverse product placement - shifting imaginary goods from the screen to real life.
Through a deal with Fox promoting the July 27 release of The Simpsons Movie, those stores, along with most of 7-Eleven's other stores in North America, will carry items that until now only existed on the TV show, including snacks like Buzz Cola, KrustyO's cereal, and Squishees, a Slurpee-type drink.
"Fox wanted to work with a company that could help execute a program that had never been done before and actually bring to life some portion of The Simpsons program," says Margaret Chabris, 7-Eleven PR and marketing communications director.
Peter Kim, senior analyst at Forrester Research, says the Kwik-E-Marts should resonate very strongly with fans of The Simpsons. "With... a franchise that's been running that long - with brand equity - they're able to connect with fans more," he notes.
Why does it matter?
"Reverse product placement is something that hasn't been tried a lot, so it's new - and new makes news," Chabris explains. With reverse product placement, there is more control, as opposed to something that ends up on the cutting-room floor or is shown only for a brief moment during a movie.
Bringing something to life, as with many of the Kwik-E-Mart items, and giving customers the opportunity to sample such products, is a "satisfying" experience, she adds.
Kim notes the importance of thinking about the personality of the brand when considering partnerships. "The feeling or the mindset that comes along with The Simpsons is lightheartedness - and 7-Eleven [wants] that good feeling [to] rub off," he says.
Huge opportunities exist for PR pros to incorporate reverse product placement. "I think PR people can capitalize on a lot of the aspects of a program that marketing is doing and take that and make some interesting stories out of it," says Chabris.
1. Debuting on December 17, 1989, The Simpsons is the longest-running TV cartoon with almost 9 million people tuning in to watch every Sunday evening, Chabris says.
2. 7-Eleven partnered with the Malt-O-Meal Co. and Cott Corp. to create KrustyO's frosted cereal and Buzz
3. One example of an earlier reverse product placement was the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurant chain, which was created based on the 1994 movie Forrest Gump.
4. The "Vote for Pedro" T-shirt became one of the top 25 shirts sold in the US on T-shirts.com after fans saw it featured in the quirky film Napoleon Dynamite.
5. Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans candy, which spun out of the Harry Potter books and movies - and only existed in the fictional world of Harry Potter - were created in 2001.