There was a time when a successful movie promotion consisted of giving away plastic cups and toys with the purchase of a burger and fries.
While fast food tie-ins are still a major part of generating hype for a new film, today Hollywood seeks larger and more creative means to create buzz. Call it organic, viral or guerrilla marketing.
The latest incarnation came this week when 7-Eleven transformed 12 of its convenience stores into caricatures of the Kwik-E-Mart as part of a promotion for "The Simpsons Movie."
The promotion further blurs the line between reality and fiction.
It used to be that marketers tried to work real-life products into movies and TV shows. While that still happens, today some highly known fake products are creeping into reality.
One of the first was the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., a seafood restaurant chain that came out of the hit 1994 movie "Forrest Gump." The first restaurant opened two years after the movie premiered. There are now 21 outlets in the United States and seven abroad including locations in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Cancun.
Items from the "Harry Potter" books and movies have also jumped from fiction to reality. A candy from the books — Bertie Bott's Beans — are now available from jelly bean manufacturer Jelly Belly.
The 7-Eleven stores that have been turned into Kwik-E-Marts are stocked with products from "The Simpsons."
There are boxes of KrustyO's cereal, Buzz Cola, pink doughnuts and special edition "Radioactive Man" comic books. 7-Eleven also renamed its Slurpee frozen drinks as Squishees. One key "Simpson" product, however, is missing: Duff beer.
"'The Simpsons' 7-Eleven campaign feels wonderfully fresh to me," said Drew Neisser, CEO of Renegade Marketing Group. "'Simpsons' fans are already buzzing about it."
7-Eleven only converted 11 stores in the United States and one in Canada, but still managed to create a strong buzz, Neisser said.
"For 'Simpsons' fans, this is an inside joke on a colossal scale," he said. "Among 'Simpsons' fans this conversion is sure to enhance their perceptions of 7-Eleven as a cool place to shop. What it is really clever about this is the blending of reality and fiction."
The marriage of movies and completely unrelated companies is nothing new. Fast food chains for years have offered collectible toys or plastic cups to mark a movie's release.
"James Bond" movies have always featured fancy cars and the series had a major tie-in with BMW a few years back. When the latest "Shrek" movie came out, the producers teamed up with Energizer batteries to market the film. "Shrek" had also joined with Burger King for its first two movies and McDonald's for the latest one.
The number of promotions is also growing.
When "Spider-Man 3" was released, it had several different tie-ins.
Baskin Robbins launched a limited edition ice cream that included extra cream in the form of a web. Sony Ericsson launched special phones that included "Spider-Man" games, movie clips and wallpapers.
Even the U.S. Postal Service is getting in on the action, recently converting 400 mailboxes to look like R2-D2 from the "Star Wars" movies. The change was in honor of the franchise's 30th anniversary. A special stamp was issued to mark the occasion.
Not all marketing schemes go smoothly though.