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Toronto Star: Fox channels 'Simpsons' bombast

Reproduced with permission - Torstar Syndication Services

How D'oh! nuts are gorging on Simpsons hype TheStar.com - entertainment - How D'oh! nuts are gorging on Simpsons hype

TV family hits silver screen amid careful PR assault

July 22, 2007 Toronto Star

By Tim Lai
Entertainment Reporter

Over the past few weeks, your friends on Facebook have probably become a bit more animated – perhaps turning a few shades of yellow.

Gone are profile pictures with significant others; in their place are new caricatures befitting proud residents of Springfield.

In the leadup to The Simpsons Movie's premiere July 27, the online avatar builder has been a popular and fun tool for people wanting to have fun with the icons that represent them online.

Not only are people discovering their inner Bart or Lisa, they're reminded that TV's most dysfunctional family will make their silver screen debut this Friday, because on the bottom right corner of every profile picture is the movie logo and opening date. And so, the rippling buzz chugs along.

Unlike other blockbusters this summer that have made a Michael Bay-like assault on the senses to promote superheroes, ogres and pirates, Matt Groening's creation has taken a smarter, cheeky approach. Yes, there are the corporate tie-ins, but non-traditional methods are being used to generate strong word-of-mouth. Burger King has also launched simpsonizeme.com, where you can upload a photo to have your avatar made for you.

Last week, Vans unveiled a limited edition running shoe line with characters depicted on the side, while JetBlue Airways has devoted an inflight TV channel to airing some of the 400 episodes.

And forget those dozen 7-Elevens across North America that were turned recently into Kwik-E-Marts, workplace of The Simpsons' Apu. This Thursday, the Fox and Fiddle on John St. will turn in to the second home of The Simpsons' Barney, Moe's Tavern – altered signs and all – for a post-screening party. Flaming Homers will be served.

"It's about finding promotional partners that makes sense creatively and in marketing terms for the property you're trying to exploit," says C.K. Lendt, an entertainment marketing professor at New York University.

"You can't just say McDonald's is the biggest hamburger chain, so that's automatically going to work for my movie."

But that's not all the hype as many stunts haven't been the typical in-your-face promotion.

Last week, British pagans were incensed when an artist was paid $32,000 to paint a colossal Homer next to the Cerne Abbas giant, a famous fertility symbol. The Simpsons also have their own haute couture spread in August's issue of Harper's Bazaar with some of fashion's leading icons.

Homer, himself, will appear in the monologue alongside Jay Leno on the Tonight Show scooping up a new "Duff & D'oh-Nuts" flavour, and don't forget the YouTube clips in which the movie's giant doughnut has besieged some of the world's most famous landmarks.

It might seem too much, but one expert says Fox is being restrained.

"Too much success in having a galaxy of tie-ins would actually backfire. Being selective with a known property seems like a real great decision," says Robert Marich, author of Marketing to Moviegoers.

Water coolers, blogs and general chatter have been abuzz about the clever marketing, but will the opening weekend match this momentum? As an established franchise, it already has a fan base that knows the characters, but it's also lost many since its edgy heyday when Time magazine proclaimed it best show of the 20th century.

"The challenge is to focus everyone on the opening date, otherwise you have marketing that just creates awareness and attention but doesn't put meat in the seats," says Marich. "Remember Snakes on a Plane? It peaked too early, though it was a great campaign. Marketing has to deliver a first week audience, and after that, no amount of marketing can save a bad movie."

Steve Hauler will probably see the film next weekend. Standing on Friday next to a giant doughnut painted at the base of the CN Tower, he says he's enjoyed some of the promotions. (Gargantuan seen from ground level, it's more like a Timbit through the glass floor at the top.)

But for the Michigan tourist, the best promotional tool has been his 12-year-old son Andrew, who has been bugging him to see the movie ever since he saw the trailers.

Marich says the campaign has been very smart to keep the focus on Homer. "They did not pick Bart, which might have turned off adults. He's a smart-aleck and he makes adults look bad. Teenagers like him for that," says Marich.

"Everything that Homer is doing (in the trailers) is funny and laughable. It isn't absurd."

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