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The Ultimate Brand Experience from the Unlikeliest Brand: D’oh!
Or, Overanalyzing The Simpsons

I have been watching The Simpsons since its first season when I was a zitty teen with an unwieldy, rollercoastery voice, much like the perennial entry-level employee, Jeremy Peterson. I used to watch it in Mexico, on Television Azteca’s channel 13 — which in retrospect is as FOX-ey as America’s FOX (i.e., straddling the fine line between genius and retardedness) — in Spanish, where Homer’s voice was one of the best vocal castings I have ever listened to. When we installed a satellite dish in our childhood home, I transitioned to the English version and haven’t stopped watching since. Much to Bryony’s chagrin. As the longest-running sitcom in history, clocking in at 18 years, the show has experienced extreme highs and lows, going anywhere from 20 million viewers to a paltry 6 million per episode, resulting in a diluted and relatively small, semi-cult following of geeks and dweebs (like me!), that can recall every funny line in every episode, much to the bemusement of normal people. The Simpsons is a black or white compromise, you either hate it or you love it, and it’s the latter that is rarer. So it’s especially impressive that a high-stakes movie, with unpredictable box office results, led by a group of obsessive and controlling creatives could become a national, über-hyped brand experience. And, against all odds and current trends, actually deliver.

For more than a year, when The Simpsons Movie was confirmed for release in 2007 by 20th Century Fox sometime in April of 2006, the series’ intense fan base was set abuzz and its creators were happy to fan the flames with titillating trailers and false plot lines, generating immense online and off-line speculation and expectation. The feelings only intensified as the unconventional promotions were stretched throughout the year, culminating these past months in the form of 7-Eleven stores transformed into Kwik-E-Marts, a 180-foot-tall rendering of Homer Simpson in his undies next to the historically significant Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset, UK, and a 14-state contest to see which lucky city of Springfield would host the official movie premiere. And through an unexpected major advertising campaign with some serious media-buying dollars behind it, most cities were treated to omnipresent movie posters and billboards of Homer ogling a sprinkled, pink-glazed doughnut that further whet fans’ appetites. As a viral capper, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, working their client base by cross-promoting with Burger King, helped launch simpsonizeme.com, a site where you can upload a picture of yourself and be transformed into a Yellowie cartoon. Of course, this was not utterly original; M&M’s did it recently, South Park has been letting people fulfill their potty-mouth dreams for a while, and Nintendo’s Mii avatars made it socially cool to flaunt your digital self. Yet the Simpsons’ closeness and mocking similarities to our own reality make it a successful guilty pleasure that tickles us with the fantasy of living in their world.

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Creatives, Simpsonized

The Thirstees The crew from 3st.

Creative Review

Creative Review’s editorial team: Gavin, Patrick, Eliza and Mark. Do check their blog, as they have a real strong addiction to this.

The Vits

Us: Bryony, Maya (sort of), and me.

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We’ve seen overblown promotions (The Da Vinci Code) and flat-aired internet hype (Snakes On a Plane) more than once, only to falter under criticism or tank over lack of asses in seats. But, as was proven on the weekend of July 27, The Simpsons Movie toppled box office fears with a $74 million opening and, as far as I have read in a myriad of places, positive critical acclaim. I recently saw the movie and, without spoiling anything for anyone, I thought it was magnificent. From the moment the 20th Century Fox logo comes on screen to when the cleaning crew comes into the theater officially ushering you out, the movie delivers with jab after jab after jab and an endless array of knockouts. Three years ago, at the HOW Conference in Chicago, Brian Collins proposed that attending church was the ultimate branded experience: the music, the shared purpose, the seating arrangement, the light coming in from the stained glass, the ritual of a Sunday. Not to belittle religious traditions by comparing it to an animated series, but the full-circle effect of going to The Simpsons Movie after a year of expectation, 18 years of commitment, two or three months of wide-eyed promotional bombardment, and sharing 87 minutes with equally giddy viewers, proved to be the perfect culmination to a fully-branded experience.

It’s easy to overlook the dense mythology of The Simpsons as puerile. Yet it’s the result of almost two decades of character development and storytelling paired with the series’ button-pushing and risk-taking ethos that has allowed the Simpsons to succeed unequivocally in stringing together a medium-bending marketing campaign that paved the way to one of the hardest adaptations of an animated television sitcom to a full-length feature film. What the Simpsons have that others like, say, The Flinstones, never had is a deep pool of brand assets rooted in our own culture, politics, history and lifestyles that establishes an unshakeable connection with our world. Whether it’s Itchy & Scratchy’s questionable kiddie-pleasing violence, Fat Tony’s similarities to Mr. Soprano, the Rich Texan’s business recklessness, Nelson’s unfulfilling bulliness, Comic Book Guy’s improbable chance of ever fitting in, the Krusty burgers’ heart-clogging amount of grease and Rainier Luftwaffe Wolfcastle’s Schwarzeneggerness — to single out but a few parallels — along with an endless parade of real-life cameos, amplified by the creators’ willingness to take any topic or situation to its extreme possibilities, the aftertaste of the Simpsons is realistically bittersweet. Just like our own world. Regardless of the Simpsons’ dwindling season viewers the success of this movie, in all of its irreverent, slapstick, politically-belittling approach, is testament to their relevance beyond simple comic relief. Most brands promise a better, sexier, happier, more fulfilled and cunning you, the Simpsons on the other hand, as a brand — and this cast of hundreds have proven that together they are one (and that they can move currency around to boot) — promise a distorted mirror view of you, and some like what they see while others don’t. As an alternative to the equally, if slightly more toxic, distorted view that most brands offer, I think I prefer my world on the yellow side. Just like the past 18 years.

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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 3732 FILED UNDER Discussion
PUBLISHED ON Aug.14.2007 BY Armin
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Tselentis’s comment is:

Is it me, or should Maya have more hair and a nookie?

On Aug.14.2007 at 08:58 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Jason, her hair was falling off and she ended up with very unflattering bald patches, so we shaved her head. Myth has it, that it grows thicker and flowier afterwards.

On Aug.14.2007 at 09:18 AM
Christina W’s comment is:

My mom used to try to keep us from watching Simpsons, but it never went away, so I think she just gave up. After having 3-D animation movies push traditional 2-D almost off the stage, it was kind of cool to see a 2-D animation movie again.

Her hair was falling off? Does that just happen? I have to bone up on these things in case I have kids some day...

On Aug.14.2007 at 03:27 PM
agrayspace’s comment is:

I am a sucker for avatars. Here is the whole agrayspace clan.

On Aug.14.2007 at 03:59 PM
agrayspace’s comment is:

On Aug.14.2007 at 04:00 PM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

I was never so pleased as to spend my $317 for a movie ticket as the day I went to see The Simpsons. It was an affirmation on some level that all would be well with the world, if only for an hour and a half.

Rarely have I so anxiously awaited the ability to spend money as I do now, waiting for the DVD to be released.

On Aug.14.2007 at 11:34 PM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

(In retrospect, it wasn't $317 for the ticket, but damnit it felt that way.)

On Aug.14.2007 at 11:35 PM
Kevin Hopp’s comment is:

It's a must see... right?

On another note, Helvetica, The Movie is now available on DVD.

On Aug.15.2007 at 12:42 AM
Kosal Sen’s comment is:

Are you a big enough fan to recall the jokes that pertained to graphic design? There was a line Marge said once about choosing the typeface to catch someone's eye. I don't remember it exactly. I think the typeface was Futura Heavy. Anyone?

More recently there was a awesome moment when she sketched up a letterhead logo on the fly from imagined clip-art in "Please Homer, Don't Hammer 'Em" (season 18, episode 3).

I'll stop now.

On Aug.15.2007 at 03:53 AM
Rob’s comment is:

Armin, no myth. My daughter didn't have much hair until she was 2 and now, at 9, has beautiful, thick curly hair. There is hope.

I never seemed quite obsessed by the Simpson's as my friends but never hated it. But certainly can admire how a show built around making fun of the world around us, was able to have that world embrace the Simpsons. Pure genius. Well earned. And if I can find the time, I'm going to see the movie.

On Aug.16.2007 at 12:08 AM
Pesky’s comment is:

Am I the only one in the universe who doesn't care for the Simpsonization of cartooning? I just don't like them, I confess. I'd usually never watch the program or the movie, if given the choice, though I have watched a few episodes to have an opinion.... I just get bored by their cynical approach (American white males with soul patch goatees, leg tattooes and cargo pants type): juvenile and not very original. (very sorry if it offends anyone here.) I know this is contrary to coolness, but I just don't give a f#ck for spoon-fed mass culture these days. Cartooning is an artform that goes way back. From very radical to very clever to very bland. There's even new cartooning being done elsewhere in the world ten times more cool. But to me, the Simpsons is like the Walmart/Best Buys of the cartoon world. The drawing style is graceless. The dialogue is sardonic(at best.) The plots are just dumb. And the new avatar thing they started is like watching humans turn into pod people. Unimaginative.

Like I said, I do sincerely apologize to the True Believers since there seems to be a consensus here that this is fun. My kind of animation is in the realm of "Cowboy Beebop" with music by Yoko Kanno.

On Aug.16.2007 at 11:02 AM
Pesky’s comment is:

OH MY GOD! I'm on a borrowed SLOOOOOOOOW PC while down in sweltering New Orleans on a project...What just popped up was all the images, I didn't see before I wrote that. Darling Bryony, let ME draw your family. After having met you all at the How Conference, I know you are handsomer than that. Armin looks bizarre as a cartoon.

Listen people, I'm an illustrator and the Simpsonization is like cancer to my kind. Please, please stop the madness........

On Aug.16.2007 at 11:14 AM
Christina W’s comment is:

I really like Cowboy Beebop but in a fascinated, watching a car-wreck in slow-motion kind of way... it's just so strange and different, I can't look away. I don't think it's bland enough to watch at 6:00 every day for the next ten years.

My new favourite cartoon is El Tigre. (Which is a bona-fide "kids" cartoon). Any comments on it from the Spanish-derived-culture crowd? Good/bad?

On Aug.16.2007 at 02:05 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

I won’t take a stand one way or another on the drawing and animation style, Pesky. Since you’re an illustrator, it’s understandable that you feel oversaturated with the Simpson-stijl. But I’ve got to admit that the times that I’ve seen the TV show, I’ve been impressed with the comic delivery.

One scene that sticks in my mind illuminates the problems with potholes in Springfield. There’s a quick shot a pothole-filled street. A truck (labeled “Popcorn”) enters the scene. It falls into a crater-sized pothole and explodes into flames, immediately followed by the crater filling up with popped popcorn.

The whole scene takes just a few seconds, and tells a complete story with an inventiveness, a dead-pan exaggeration, and an economy-of-execution that is very impressive.

Like most if the prime-time animated series these days, there is plenty of cynicism evident in The Simpsons. Unlike the other series, however, there is also a good-hearted element that I find endearing, as well.

On Aug.17.2007 at 04:47 PM
Pesky’s comment is:

Daniel,
After suffering thru several ruthless August nights in my old stomping grounds of post-Katrina New Orleans several days ago, I realize I may have been a little hard on my fellow bloggers here and I do sincerely apologize. It was the dozen oysters at Acme Oyster House that put me under. Plus the uncountable beers.
I'm indifferent to the Simpsons and I have always been "out of it" culturally. My true feeling is: let them all have fun without snarky criticism from me.
I voiced my opinion without thinking. Typical. And I can feel the wrath of Homer on my back.

On Aug.18.2007 at 08:48 PM