Portrait of an Attention-Grabber

It's way bigger than Gabbo. And way way bigger than "The Itchy and Scratchy Movie." And it's coming out … wait, in three more weeks?

That's right, America. We're still over twenty days from "The Simpsons Movie" hitting your local googleplex, but the hype machine is already working at a higher level than anything we've seen in years. And recent weeks have shown a remarkably savvy one-two PR punch that the cruel slow summer months have swallowed whole. Google News has had "Simpsons"-related stories churning in the triple digits for the past week.

As far as grassroots, guerilla marketing efforts go, it's still miles behind "The Blair Witch Project." I mean, c'mon: Millions of dollars worth of advertising and a 20-year reputation is a huge head start. But what the promotional people behind "The Simpsons Movie" have done is still worthy of a pat on the back.

In a world of crass cross-marketing – can someone explain to me the link between Transformers and General Motors? Will that Chevy Cobalt trying to pull into my lane turn into a sword-wielding robot of death and destruction if I don't let him in? – the Simpson's people have truly lapped the field.

First, the Kwik-E-Mart Comes Alive! stories, like this Associated Press story from July 5th:

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 opening of "The Simpsons Movie," based on the long-running TV series, which loves to lampoon 7-Elevens.

So you take over a dozen branches of America's best-known convenience store in one of the slowest news weeks in the year – I'm not complaining, the traffic to work this week has been non-existent – and immediately get the country talking. Chalk up a point for the promotional team.

That by itself would be a cutesy little ploy to build buzz around the movie, but they've decided on a double-barrel grassroots promotional campaign -- the second part of which involves holding auditions for various Springfields to earn the right of being The Official Springfield and host the movie's national premiere. USA Today – What, no NewsCorp media outlet? Shocker – is partnering with the studio and holding the online election among 14 different Springfields. Brilliant. Not only does it keep the buzz (machine, not cola) going, but it instigates some odd form of civic involvement, and columns like this onefrom the Kansas City Star endorsing Springfield, Missouri:

Yes, that southwest Missouri city — the same Springfield that blessed us with Brad Pitt, cashew chicken and John Ashcroft. (Hey, two out of three ain't bad.)

True, that town is no more like the fictional Springfield in "The Simpsons" than some of the others that are up for the honor of holding the July 26 premiere.

No three-eyed fish in the local waterways juiced up by the local nuclear power plant. No tavern named Moe's. No yellow-all-over brat named Bart wreaking havoc.

However, Missouri's Springfield does have something over the 13 others, says convention and visitors bureau spokeswoman Mar'Ellen Felin: a wickedly funny video entry in the Simpson's Movie Premiere contest.

"We took a very different approach from everybody else," she says. "We took an old-school 'Simpsons' approach."

What, you think a city spokesperson should have better things to do? Tell that to Senator Ted Kennedy:
Springfield, Mass, organizers have launched an aggressive effort to "Get Out the Vote" for Springfield's video in "The Simpsons" contest, with U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy among those lending a significant hand.

Kennedy, D-Mass., has sent out e-mails to all supporters on his mailing list nationwide, urging them to select Springfield, Mass., in the contest. He has a featured part in Springfield's video.

"Simpsons" fans – and I count myself among them – knew that the show would deliver more than a Happy Meal campaign or other standard fare, as the show has remained (mostly) fresh over the years. And today's article in the Hollywood Reporter bears that out:
A source close to the movie's promotions said that the studio and the filmmakers were "extraordinarily selective and specific in terms of the creative content" for tie-ins. "They need to be organic to the genius of the writing of the movie, and not too many partners can pull that off," the source said. "The studio is not building a brand or a franchise from scratch. The task here was announcing the movie as an event and creating an event. It wasn't really about lining up as many partners as possible, it was about having the right partners in the right context and the right message."
The people behind "The Simpsons" need to tread carefully over the next three weeks, though. There is enormous potential for cheesy overexposure. But they know a thing or two about pounding something to death –and they're probably smart enough to avoid the normal traps. Whatever happens over the next month, we can bet that they'll break the mold after the wink-and-a-nod, we-all-know-how-silly-this-is promotional campaign runs its course.