The Simpsons continues to have a massive presence in almost all areas of pop culture despite being 25 years old and having to work a little harder than in the past. One of the latest efforts involves London soccer club Chelsea and is a real head-scratcher.
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Details are hard to come by too. The Media Blog has very little and the official website has next to nothing on what the deal actually entails and it’s only after some digging around do any details emerge. From Goal:
The merchandising arrangement, struck with Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products, will see the creation of Blues-branded items featuring Homer and Bart Simpson in the club’s colours.
So basically, if I’m reading this correctly (and you are too), the deal simply involves selling things with Homer and Bart on them dressed up in Chelsea garb. Hmmm, anyone see any problems with this, specifically any that a naive American might overlook?
Let’s consider a few things first. The Simpsons is an American TV show that quite amazingly, has found just as much success abroad as at home. This is in spite of the fact that although the show oozes American influences and humour, it’s focus on characters and their stories is what has made it the blinding success that it is in other countries. Audiences have identified with the characters and have made them popular world wide.
Such identification is dependent on the characters retaining a level of aloofness. While general merchandise can bend to any local whim, extracting individual characters poses more than a few problems.
Is it really conceivable that an American would even know who Chelsea are, let alone support them? It’s not entirely impossible, but it isn’t really plausible. By putting a Chelsea uniform on Homer and Bart, it immediately brings attention to that very fact, and most intelligent people would be inclined to see it as the marketing stunt it is. However…
For the English (and plenty of other places too), soccer (football) is an extension of life in many ways. Identifying with a team is a major way of portraying a lot about your character and hometown and while a club like Chelsea has supporters all over the world, within England, it’s a lot more segregated thanks to the presence of the rest of the English league teams.
What that means, and what an American may not be inclined to understand, is that any team that Chelsea have a rivalry with are unlikely to embrace the characters in their Chelsea gear. Now of course, that isn’t to say that they should, but earmarking Homer and Bark as Chelsea supporters isn’t going to do them (or the show) any favours with fans of Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur. Rivalries can be bitter, and although animosity against Chelsea isn’t the worst, in Scotland, bitter rivals Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers concluded that the only way either team could find a sponsor was for both teams to have the same one. That way, fans didn’t have a reason to boycott the sponsor of the opposing team.
Most soccer fans will realise the disconnect between the show and the promotion, but the entire concept is a bit weird and doesn’t convey a lot of confidence in either side gaining anything. As a cross-marketing exercise, it’s a very poor example with very little overlap or connection between brands and it places the entirety of the risk resting on the animated shoulders of Homer and Bart. We’ll see how it plays out.