July 24, 2007
Reverse Product Placement, The Simpsons, and the Value of the 7-Eleven Brand

Over the past few days, there have been a couple of interesting ideas batted around by C3 consulting researchers and alumni on a couple of issues that I thought might be of direct interest to the wider C3 readership. With all that is happening in the fan fallout from Harry Potter, the repercussions and new business deals stemming from the upfronts, and all the issues we've been covering more regularly, I thought that pointing the way toward a couple of those pieces might be beneficial.

One is an issue that I've been following from afar. I've never been an avid Simpsons viewer, although I appreciate its place in popular culture. It's not even that I have any aversion to The Simpsons, but I've just never become a regular viewer. Nevertheless, I've been paying attention to the promotion of The Simpsons Movie, both in the transformation of 7-Eleven Stores to Kwik-E Marts and in the competition for deciding which Springfield is the home of the Simpson family.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Jason Mittell had published a piece on the Springfield competition. Now, Grant McCracken has weighed in on the Kwik-E Mart cross-promotion.

Simpsons creator Matt Groening was on The Daily Show last week, and Jon Stewart raved about the brilliance of launching a fictional property into real life. True experience economy stuff...and, as several have pointed out (look here, here, and here), it provides an example of the concept of reverse product placement that C3 alum have been thinking about.

Grant's take is quite different, though, and it's based on his feeling of 7-Eleven as a recognizable brand name, but not in a positive light. Grant writes, "7-Eleven is such a disastrous brand and retail proposition that there's no way it can save itself with a Simpsons endorsement. Now, if meanings are going to move here, they can only go the other way: from 7-Eleven to The Simpsons."

I think he makes some quite good points in here, and the key is that it is important to remember that if engagement means that brands rub off on each other, it's important to think through the fallout of that, as some here at MIT have looked at in the past in relation to the work of Henry Jenkins and others on American Idol, 24, etc. For more on this, see Convergence Culture.

Coming from an area of the country where 7-Eleven was a known convenience store name but not a major part of my life, I don't have particular connotations for it, other than that sort of "big gulp" Interstate stop type of atmosphere, but I know there has been a lot of excitement among Simpsons enthusiasts about the Kwik-E Mart transformations. What will be the final verdict: reverse product placement exemplar, or branding failure? Perhaps it depends on the connotation one has for 7-Eleven...

I'm also curious what the promotion means for those who don't know or care about The Simpsons at all. Are there some so attached to the usual 7-Eleven experience that the Simpsons-ing of the store angers or annoys them?

By the way, look back to this post from March 2006 regarding pop cosmopolitanism and The Simpsons.