Burnett Cries ‘D’oh!’ Over ‘Simpsons’ Promo

CHICAGO Even acid-tongued late-night host Jon Stewart calls Fox’s tie-in with 7-Eleven for the upcoming premiere of The Simpsons Movie the “Best. Promotion. Ever,” as the series’ Comic Book Guy might say.

Reed Collins, svp, creative director at Leo Burnett, thinks so too, especially because he and a team from the Chicago-based Publicis Groupe agency claim they presented exactly that idea to Fox and 7-Eleven executives last year in a new business pitch for the movie’s premiere.

Burnett maintains that it first suggested redressing 7-Elevens as Kwik-E-Marts, the chain of convenience stores depicted in the long-running TV show and upcoming movie. Several stores around the country have received such treatment, with their facades and interiors Kwik-E-fied and even some product offerings morphed into items that previously existed only on the show.

In an uncharacteristic move for Burnett, the shop has gone public with its claims, hoping to put the issue of creative ownership on the front burner. Collins discussed the situation with Adweek‘s Aaron Baar.

Q: Why raise this issue in public?
A: To raise the issue within the industry and get it talked about. It happens all the time. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s happening far too often and something has to be done about it. Obviously, we only found out about it recently.

How do you lay claim to the idea?
We had met with Fox and we had shared [the concept] with them first, and we had shared ideas with the agency that ended up doing this. We know this, and we have actual physical documents [from] months and months of meetings developing the ideas. If we were not developing this for use, why were we having six months of ideas?

What do you hope to gain now?
Respect or acknowledgement that we had a hand in this. [We also hope] that people will think twice the next time they try and get away with this. I think that’s a great result. Because people will stand up for their ideas.

What can be done moving forward to safeguard creative ideas?
That’s a tough question. [Hopefully] people will feel more moralistically obliged on a personal level that it’s just a simple idea of respect. That would be the ideal situation. There’s no short answer to a massive problems. The lines are being blurred even more in a process of collaboration.

What if this idea wasn’t as celebrated as it is. Would you still stand up and claim it?
We thought it was a great idea when we presented it. [Simpsons creator] Matt Groening said it was a great idea, and it’s a great idea [now that it’s] being done. I guess that’s why we’re frustrated.

Do you feel you’re getting acknowledgement through this process?
I feel a little frustrated that this is the only way to get acknowledgement. It would have been great if all parties had come to a nice amicable solution.

What do you do the next time this happens?
The next time, you hope your eyes are a little wider. And we may see it coming, rather than naively expecting respect.