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7-Elevens Get a 'Kwik-E-Mart' Makeover
Other recent examples of reverse product placement include Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, which spun out of the Harry Potter books and movies, and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurants, which opened after the movie "Forrest Gump." 7-Eleven has done other movie-themed promotions, including one this spring for the latest Spiderman installment.
After Fox pitched a 7-Eleven tie-in last year, representatives from the studio, the stores, and Gracie Films _ including Simpsons creator Matt Groening and executive producer James L. Brooks, met in Los Angeles to kick around ideas. Brooks added one _ holding a contest to let one fan be drawn into a future episode of the TV show.
7-Eleven executives loved the idea. They had surveys showing a strong overlap between their customers and fans of the show _ both tend to be young and male. It sounded like cash registers ringing.
"They've been looking at Squishees and KrustyO's and Buzz Cola for years and have never been able to put their hands on it," said Merkel, the advertising executive.
But they won't find Duff beer, the brand chugged by Homer Simpson. The movie will be rated PG-13, and selling a Simpson-themed beer "didn't seem to fit," said Rita Bargerhuff, a 7-Eleven marketing executive. "That was a tough call, but we want to make sure it's considered good, responsible fun."
Bargerhuff predicted extra sales to Simpsons fans will more than offset the cost of the promotion and create new customers for the chain. She also said the chain is prepared for crowds and will have extra security and clerks at the Kwik-E-Marts.
The promotion, however, is not risk-free. The proprietor of Kwik-E-Mart is a man named Apu who speaks in a heavy Indian accent. He is based on a manager Groening encountered while shopping at a 7-Eleven in Los Angeles nearly 20 years ago and plays to stereotypes about convenience-store operators and Asian immigrants.
Many of 7-Eleven's franchisees are Indian, company officials say, although they say they don't track exact numbers. Bargerhuff said they were "overwhelmingly positive" after hearing of the Kwik-E-Mart idea, but "it was not a 100 percent endorsement."
"There was definitely a concern of offending people," she said. "But they seemed to understand that 'The Simpsons' makes fun of everybody. The vast majority saw this as a great opportunity."
That's the case for Kumar Assandas, a 28-year-old franchisee whose parents immigrated from India. His store in suburban Las Vegas is one of the temporary Kwik-E-Marts.
"I know it's a stereotype, but it doesn't bother me. Everybody knows it's a joke," Assandas said. "I'm a big Simpsons fan myself, and maybe subconsciously it even inspired me to become a 7-Eleven owner."