7-Elevens Get a 'Kwik-E-Mart' Makeover

By DAVID KOENIG
The Associated Press
Sunday, July 1, 2007; 10:19 PM

DALLAS -- Over the weekend, 7-Eleven Inc. turned a dozen stores into Kwik-E-Marts, the fictional convenience stores of "The Simpsons" fame, in the latest example of marketers making life imitate art.

Those stores and most of the 6,000-plus other 7-Elevens in North America will sell items that until now existed only on television: Buzz Cola, KrustyO's cereal and Squishees, the slushy drink knockoff of Slurpees.

It's all part of a campaign to hype the July 27 opening of "The Simpsons Movie," the big-screen debut for the long-running television cartoon, which loves to lampoon 7-Eleven as a store that sells all kinds of unhealthy snacks and is run by a man with a thick Indian accent.

For 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and Homer's creators at Gracie Films, the stunt is a cheap way to call attention to their movie, since 7-Eleven is bearing all the costs, which executives of the retail chain put at somewhere in the single millions.

At 7-Eleven, they're hoping it shows the ubiquitous chain has a trait seen in few corporations _ the ability to laugh at themselves.

"We thought if you really want to do something different, the idea of actually changing stores into Kwik-E-Marts was over the top but a natural," said Bobbi Merkel, an executive for of 7-Eleven's advertising agency, FreshWorks, a unit of Omnicom Group Inc. "It shows they get the joke."

The monthlong promotion has been rumored a long time _ it's hard to keep a secret known by so many suppliers and franchisees _ but 7-Eleven managed to keep the locations of the stores quiet until early Sunday morning. That's when the exteriors of 11 U.S. stores and one in Canada were flocked in industrial foam and given new signs to replicate the animated look of Kwik-E-Marts.

The U.S. locations where a 7-Eleven store was transformed into a Kwik-E-Mart are New York City; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Burbank, Calif.; Los Angeles; Henderson, Nev.; Orlando, Fla.; Mountain View, Calif.; Seattle; and Bladensburg, Md.

The idea grew out of conversations between Fox and 7-Eleven's advertising agency.

"We wanted to make sure the movie stands out as a true cultural event this summer," said Lisa Licht, a marketing vice president at Fox. "It has to stand out from other summer movies and TV shows."

The Fox/7-Eleven deal is an example of a practice called reverse product placement. Instead of just putting products prominently in a movie or TV show, fake goods move from the screen to reality.

In some cases, 7-Eleven has contracted with manufacturers of similar products to make their Kwik-E-Mart counterparts. Malt-O-Meal, the Northfield, Minn., cereal maker, will conjure up a recipe for KrustyO's, for example. In others, existing products will simply be renamed. One flavor of 7-Eleven's own Slurpee will be sold as "WooHoo! Blue Vanilla" Squishee for the month.


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