Ad Agency: Idea for 'Simpsons' Promo Swiped
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
Part of the campaign to promote the new "Simpsons" movie is turning real 7-Elevens into Kwik-E Marts, the fictional convenience store of the series. It's a clever, ambitious idea to recreate Bart Simpson's world. It's also an idea that people at the ad agency Leo Burnett claim was originally theirs.
As NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.
ELIZABETH BLAIR: About a year ago, a creative team from Leo Burnett was invited by 20th Century Fox to pitch ideas for "Simpsons" movie campaign. Reed Collins, the agency's creative director on the project, says one of the concepts they came up with was called world gone Springfield.
Mr. REED COLLINS (Creative Director, Leo Burnett Worldwide): As "Simpsons" lovers, we were like, well, maybe we can bring the "Simpsons" into the real world.
BLAIR: That included getting some of the "Simpsons" favorite fictional brands into places like Wal-Mart and 7-Elevens. They presented their ideas to representatives from Fox and Matt Groening, "The Simpsons" creator.
Mr. COLLINS: Matt Groening was very, very appreciative. He also said that he really loved the idea of turning the world into Springfield. And that was one idea, out of everything we presented, that was something they should be doing.
BLAIR: Collins says, over the next four months, they had more meetings with Fox's marketing department and 7-Eleven's ad agency, FreshWorks. But, he says, gradually their ideas lost momentum and communications with Fox petered out last fall. Two weeks ago, he learned that a dozen 7-Elevens had actually become Kwik-E Marts.
Mr. COLLINS: I thought it was fantastic. I was like I can't believe my eyes. Kwik-E Marts are a reality. And then, a fraction of a second later, I was like, wait, hang on a second. Didn't we have a little bit of something to do with that?
BLAIR: Reed Collins says Leo Burnett was never given any kind of credit or compensation for the work, and the agency had no idea that Fox was moving forward with FreshWorks on the 7-Eleven idea.
A spokesperson from 20th Century Fox declined to be interviewed on tape but said in an e-mail that Leo Burnett's claim is ridiculous, the idea was already in the works and we told them so. A spokesperson from 7-Eleven said anyone could have come up with that idea since Matt Groening based Kwik-E Marts on 7-Elevens.
Who owns an idea is a very tricky question especially in an industry where ideas are constantly being pitched and turned down. Steve Baron, an intellectual property lawyer, says there is a precedent in advertising for making a legal claim. He says the originators of the idea behind Taco Bell's psycho Chihuahua didn't get paid and sued.
Mr. STEVE BARON (Intellectual Property Lawyer): And successfully obtained a judgment in an excess of $30 million for the theft of the idea on the theory that they had an implied contract.
BLAIR: Leo Burnett's lawyers are considering their options. Reed Collins says they don't have an axe to grind but they do want to raise the issue. And it's worth it, says Warren Berger, a journalist who specializes in advertising.
Mr. WARREN BERGER (Journalist): It's a very difficult situation when you put your ideas out there and you don't get the account, somebody else gets it. And then if you see any part of your idea showing up later on, you know, that's a big problem. It's an issue that they probably need to address.
BLAIR: Whoever came up with the idea, those handful of 7-Elevens around the country will be dressed up like Kwik-E Marts right up to "The Simpsons" movie debut at the end of the month.
Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.