Ask Apu

During this morning’s commute some AdPulp fodder emerged from the car radio.
NPR’s Elizabeth Blair interviewed Reed Collins, a creative director at Leo Burnett about the transformation of a dozen 7-Elevens into Kwik-E Marts–a stunt meant to promote The Simpons Movie. Collins loves the move, in part because it was his team’s idea. Collins says Burnett presented the concept to receptive managers at 20th Century Fox, 7-Eleven and Simpons’ creator Matt Groening. He adds that the idea eventually lost steam over several months.
Sadly, 7-Eleven and 20th Century Fox have their own version of events. A studio spokesperson said Collins’ claim is “ridiculous” and that the idea was already in the works.
Omnicom’s Fresh Works–a virtual agency made up of teams from Tracy Locke, TPN, Dieste Harmel & Partners and The Integer Group–is AOR on the 7-Eleven business.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. “Sadly, 7-Eleven and 20th Century Fox have their own version of events.”
    Sadly? I think you mean “Correctly.”
    Both the client and the studio say others came up with the idea long before Reed did. How is that sad?
    What’s his deal? Is he saying they stole the idea from him? Has 7-11 ever even been a Burnett client?

  2. ohgrowup says:

    Bizarre indeed.
    I’m sure that Reed truly does feel like his idea was swiped, but after listening to the broadcast it sounds to me like this is just another case of different people working on a project and coming up with a similar idea.
    It happens to all of us at some point. The thing that surprises me is that Reed (and others at Burnett, I guess) seem so shocked by it they’re making noises that it could have ONLY happend by thievery. Hogwash.
    Only someone who’s grown used to being coddled with plum assignments would react this strongly to something as common and “real-world” as seeing an idea similar to your own brought to life by someone else.
    And given the state of the Chicago ad scene of late, sabre rattling by Burnett lawyers (as the boradcast implies) about ideas being stolen hardly seems like a smart way to get invited to more pitches.
    Grow up, Reed. Even if you really feel they stole your idea, going on NPR and accusing Matt Groening of lying to your face hardly seems like the right course to take. Especially since the chances you were the only person among the legions of people involved in this project to hit on the idea of turning 7-11s into Kwikie Marts is slim to begin with.

  3. I don’t know Reed, but he sounds pretty reasonable to me (which isn’t the same thing as saying he’s right…I don’t know who is right). And let’s remember he did not edit this audio piece. NPR did. Additionally, Reed does not say Groening lied to him or to anyone else, just that he liked the idea.

  4. What would be the appropriate course of action if this did turn out to be a stolen idea?

  5. Sonya:
    Good question for an intellectual property lawyer, and it sounds like Burnett has some on the case, right?
    But remember, hitting on the same idea as someone else vs. having them maliciously and deliberately steal it from you are two very different things.
    The fact that the former happens quite often makes it very difficult to prove that the latter did in this or any case.
    Which is all the more reason making he-said-she-said acusations on national radio in the meantime is a not very bright idea.
    And yes, NPR edited the interview, but who called NPR and got them involved in the first place?
    Let the lawyers handle it or you could very well invite a lawsuit before you’ve even decided whether or not you have grounds to file your own.
    I think someone’s wounded ego and desire for attention is getting in the way of common sense here.
    If you file suit and win, you’ll be vindicated then. In the meantime, you run the risk of being a drama queen at best and getting sued yourself at worst.

  6. Two guys who say that Taco Bell & Chiat/Day stole their idea for the talking Chihuahua sued and won.
    So it does happen, although it’s rare.

  7. If you take Reed’s comments at face value, the thing that’s hard to understand is why 7-Eleven didn’t just say, “Oh that’s great…in fact, we’re already working on it.”

  8. That’s a good point, David.
    But perhaps it was already such a given they were going to do something along those lines they didn’t feel the need to address it specifically. For all we know, Groening saying he liked the idea was his polite way of saying “Yeah, we’ve already thought of that. In fact, we’ve heard it a few times now. What else you got?”
    During pitches, clients hear similar or even identical ideas from different agencies (with slight variations) quite often, but I doubt they always stop the meeting to let the agency presenting know at that exact moment that what they’ve just proposed has a similar element or two to something else they already heard.
    But I see your point.
    I’m not saying the Burnett folks didn’t present exactly the ideas Reed says they did.
    I’m just saying it’s a little bit arrogant to think that of all the people involved (probably in the thousands) you’re the only one who came up with it or mentioned it. And even more arrogant to publicly insinuate fraud on the part of everyone else involved with no more proof than your own casual re-telling of the events of one particular meeting.
    On a side note, this type of thing is exactly why many clients specify (with participating agencies agreeing) that they in fact will own every idea presented during a pitch, regardless of which agency wins and with no promises to give credit in any way. I’m not saying it’s right or fair, but ask around and I think you’ll find it’s the way of the world. A lesson Mr. Collins may have just learned the hard way. (How he ascended to the rank of CD without learning it before now is another question. Perhaps its more of a vanity title vs. that of one who’s used to working on the front lines, on accounts that actually pay the bills.)

  9. Huh,
    I hear you on the “there’s no new ideas” issue. And I agree with that. But I’m not ready to say Reed Collins is an egomaniac, nor clueless.
    Leo Burnett may not be all that it once was, but I have a hard time believing they’re stupid enough to create a ruckus without good cause. It seems like it’s a matter of principle, at least from my uninformed POV. For one, they don’t seem to be asking for compensation like the Taco Bell case mentioned above.
    If Collins’ claim is true, the clients involved would be smart to just say, “Yeah, Burnett had a hand it in. We appreciate them and we paid them for their ideas.” Instead, the 20th Century Fox (a company owned by Murdoch, by the way) spokesperson comes off as being defensive, if not highly agitated, which leads me to think they’re hiding something.

  10. Matt Groening was on the Daily Show last night. He mentioned that he liked to bite the hand that feeds him, often making fun of Fox/Murdoch. In fact, there is an episode that shows a “news” reporter, and below him is the infamous Fox ticker scrolling by. Among the hilarious tidbits;
    Rupert Murdoch:Terrific Dancer
    Groening and crew are PROHIBITED from doing this again because Fox execs don’t want their viewers to mistake it for a real news cast. Seriously.

  11. Whoever came up with it I’m glad they did. I think it is brilliant in every way.
    My sons wonders if some 7-11’s will be made permanently into Kwik-E-Mart’s. I bet that is an idea that seriously came up.
    Thank You – Come Again!

  12. For anyone who might like to hear some details that are different from Burnett’s “what if we just go on NPR and, you know, hint around that we were robbed and see if people fall for it” hooey, here’s a comment from adfreak. I’m sure a more verifiable version of events will be forthcoming, but it just sucks that the folks who really did come upon the idea honestly will now always have to deal with someone somewhere who thinks they stole it. How sad.
    From adfreak:
    Leo Burnett should really go on a fact-finding mission before they make such outrageous claims. As a member of the team that brought this concept to life, I can say, without hestitation or reservation, that the idea was in the works prior to LB ever presenting this. In fact, it went through consumer testing before LB ever made a single presentation to Fox.
    I can empathize with the creative’s assertion ideas flow too loosely these days in the industry, without proper recognition or reward. But I can assure that it’s not the case here.
    As anyone who is a Simpsons fan can attest to (and I have been one for 18 years), the connection between the Kwik-E-Mart and 7-Eleven is somewhat of a no-brainer. Matt G. has, for 18 years, been extremely vocal about the connection in numerous interviews. The Kwik-E-Mart is a direct parody of 7-Eleven.
    The real creativity and genius in the whole promotion is in how an agency sold this type of an idea into a client … convincing a client to “get the joke” (about itself). And the icing on the cake is the flawless execution that happened in order to bring the idea to life in a way that has caused customers to wait in line for up to an hour to experience a brand activation that has broken all the rules.
    If Leo Burnett wants to get some credit for making the association between the 7-Eleven and the Kwik-E-Mart, I’ll go ahead and give it to them. WAY TO GO CREATIVES! YOU GUYS ARE GENIUS!
    If they want they want to lay claim to being the first to do so, they may want to check their facts and then stand in line.
    Even though we were the ones to bring this to life, we would never be arrogant enough to think we were the first ones to have this idea over the past 18 years.
    We, fortunately, just were the ones tenacious and creative enough to get it done.
    Posted by: Sterling | Jul 20, 2007