Doh! 7-Eleven converts some stores into fictional Kwik E Marts

It's not every day you find a national retail chain spending millions to make fun of itself.

But that's what 7-Eleven has done with its makeover of a dozen stores, including one near Orlando's attractions, into Kwik E Marts -- inspired by the make-believe convenience store in the TV cartoon hit The Simpsons.

As part of a promotion for the July 27 release of the 20th Century Fox film The Simpsons Movie, 7-Eleven transformed the stores during the weekend into real-life versions of the cartoon store, complete with red, lime and blue Kwik E Mart signs and products for sale such as KrustyO's cereal, Buzz Cola and Squishees (a knockoff of 7-Eleven's Slurpee drink).

The products also will be sold at other 7-Eleven locations.

"We're doing this to have some fun," said Bobbi Merkel, an executive for FreshWorks, the advertising arm of 7-Eleven. "We get the joke."

Some curious onlookers and Simpsons fans seemed to be in on the joke Monday, as they crowded the revamped Lake Buena Vista store on Apopka-Vineland Road at County Road 535.

They were greeted by a banner that read: "Thank you for loitering, please come again."

"It is ridiculous fun," said Ashley Selph, 24, of Orlando, who had a red box of KrustyO's cereal and a six-pack of Buzz Cola in her shopping basket.

"I'd be willing to drive anywhere in the state to see this," said Nick Nero of Windermere, who was snapping photos of employees dressed in lime-colored Kwik E Mart smocks.

Nero, 34, said he was going to buy one of every Simpsons-themed product -- including the pink-frosted Sprinklicious doughnuts favored by Homer Simpson -- "just to do it."

However, the transformation -- most store signs, including the roadside banner and gas pumps, have been covered with Kwik E Mart logos -- confused some people.

"What is going on here?" asked one befuddled customer. "Is this a 7-Eleven?"

Even a gas distributor was perplexed when he came to deliver fuel Sunday night, a 7-Eleven representative said.

Joking aside, 7-Eleven executives say the makeover -- which will last until the end of the month -- targets the chain's core customers of children ages 6 to 11, teenage boys and young adults.

"We know that the people who shop at 7-Eleven love The Simpsons," Merkel said.

Eli Portnoy, founder of brand-strategy firm the Portnoy Group, said the campaign likely will help 7-Eleven boost sales while creating additional buzz.

"It's not a bad thing to make fun of yourself, to not take yourself too seriously and maybe bring some new customers into the store," he said.

The move isn't without risks. Embracing a caricature of a place known for overpriced, unhealthy snacks may not resonate with everybody. 7-Eleven, however, said it's a chance to show that the chain also offers healthful options including fresh fruit and sandwiches.

Another potential pitfall is that the proprietor of the fictional Kwik E Mart is an Indian-American man named Apu, who speaks with a heavy accent. The cartoon is seen by some as playing to stereotypes about convenience-store operators and Indian-Americans.

7-Eleven said the majority of its franchisees, many of whom are Indian-American, felt positive about the Kwik E Mart campaign.

Bobby Ramrattan, an Indian-American who is a field consultant for 7-Eleven, was playing Apu at the Lake Buena Vista store Monday. He said he liked the promotion.

"I think it's fun," he said. "I don't take it personally."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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