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July 9, 2007

The Simpsons: The Ultimate Lesson In Branding

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I was perusing the JetBlue Web site last week when I noticed something rather odd. It seems the entire site has been taken over by The Simpsons. No really, it’s Simpsons crazy over there. Marge is sitting pretty on the home page, the Title tag is now Simpsons-inspired, each Simpsons character has been assigned to a JetBlue-friendly city, and the JetBlue blog is being manned by that creepy looking Montgomery Burns guy. As someone who has never seen a full episode of the Simpsons, even I realized that something is up.

That’s right; The Simpsons are up to something!

Here at Bruce Clay we’re big believers of “knowledge transfer”, “group learning” and “geek wisdom sharing”. Living this idea, I decided to consult Bruce Clay’s resident Simpsons expert Aaron Landerkin (he also dabbles in IT) to help me understand what the heck was going on.

[Caution: When seeking information, it is best to approach Simpson-obsessed geeks very carefully. They tend to get very excited and spout off an endless supply of odd pieces of trivia not usually held by someone not living at home with their mother. We love you, Aaron, but seriously, get help.]

After receiving a “brief” lesson in The Simpsons from Aaron, I learned that The Simpsons is actually the ultimate lesson in branding for search marketers. Who knew?

Turns out there’s a Simpson’s movie coming out in a few weeks (you probably knew this; I, however, live in a cave) and the JetBlue promotion is just one way in which the entire world is being Simspon-ized. Normal 7-11’s are being turned into Kwik-E-Marts where actual products are being transformed into Simpson items, Xbox has created an ultra-geeky Simpsons video game console and there’s actual a Web site dedicated to the Simpson’s world domination.

It may seem a little crazy to those of us on the outside but this, my friends, is branding. It’s branding so impressive that even someone who has never watched an episode of The Simpsons realized that something was going on and was interested enough to inquire about it. That’s pretty remarkable, especially since I am so self-involved that I rarely recognized anything that doesn’t concern me. The JetBlue promotion also made me realize that even though I’ve never actually seen an episode, I can still identify Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie.

The Simpsons has something your company needs: Recognizable Brand DNA. Marge, Homer and the gang are as recognizable as the scent of a Starbucks, which is exactly how ingrained your brand must be into your customer’s life. In order to evoke a response, your brand has to be so natural to users that they recognize you in less than two seconds. If they have to think about where they recognize that blue-haired character from, you will have already lost them. They’re already halfway into booking their JetBlue plan tickets.

Similarly, don’t make them try and figure out what Ask.com has to do with the Unabomber. You probably won’t like the connection they make on their own.

What I like about The Simpsons’ movie advertising campaign is that it’s creative in a way that they didn’t have to be. My instinct tells me that they probably didn’t have to do much advertising for this movie to be a hit. There would still be droves and droves of Aaron Landerkins standing in line the day the movie opened, but they did anyway. And they did it in a creative way that people like me would notice. They didn’t just market themselves to fans of the show; they’ve made it so that even the person who has never watched an episode (but maybe secretly always wanted to) notices that something is going on.

Like I said, I don’t watch The Simpsons but I do fly JetBlue enough to earn more than my share of free plane tickets. By partnering with JetBlue they were able to find me. And I’m sure the customers walking into the converted Kwik-e-Marts across the country are going to notice that something is up, unless they live in a Susan Esparza-sized bubble. The Simpsons, a brand I recognize but don’t necessarily associate myself with, has found all sorts of unique ways to connect with people. I think that’s impressive.

Successful companies will always be the ones with strong Brand DNA. As a company fighting for eyeballs, what have you done to foster this? Would your customers recognize you if you showed up in an unexpected place at an unexpected time? Would they be interested enough to ask you why you’re there? How about potential customers? If not, you’re missing out on your ability to Simpson-ize your audience.

Oh, and to the person in charge of The Simpsons movie branding campaign, Aaron has a few requests for your ad campaign:

  1. Where is the Duff Beer, and almost as important, where’s Duffman?
  2. There should be a sponsored nuclear power plant somewhere.
  3. Aaron would also like to see more location takeovers: Moe’s Tavern and Krusty Burger would be a good start. There is already a baseball team called the Albequerque Isotopes, why not expand on that? (The team name is taken from the Springfield Minor league baseball team, the Springfield Isotopes, that was once rumored to move to Albuquerque.

I told you he was a geek.

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One response to “The Simpsons: The Ultimate Lesson In Branding”

  1. Dan writes:

    Funny that you don’t watch the Simpsons, yet your blog has some of the sharpest wit (NOTE:add link to Lisa’s swelling-head pic later – you’re welcome Susan). My advice: Start watching. Not only will your readers appreciate the references (Grehan blogging about the end of SEO… That’s a paddlin’), but it will help you understand some of the arcana that is Fark.

    My suggestion: Use your NetFlix/BlockBuster subscription to get Season 3, and start your journey with “Like Father, Like Clown” (based on the Jazz Singer).

    Once you graduate from the Simpsons (and it requires years of study), you can continue in your field of Groening study with Futurama. Not quite as sharp, but easily an Honorable Mention. Dip your toes with “Love’s Labour Lost In Space” from Season 1, and see who Zap reminds you of. Full disclosure: I use his pic for MyBlogLog. Anyone who emails me and knows Zap, is automatically cool. Just think: With a lot of time, and a little effort, you can be cool(er) too. Enjoy!



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