7-11, where brands go to die

Think back, way back, to the last time you were in a 7-11.  Recall the smell, the light, the linoleum underfoot, the clerk behind the counter.

It’s as if everything that is bad and wrong in the ordinary world has assembled in a kind of jamboree of awfulness. When I used to frequent one in downtown Boston, I would shuffle around endlessly looking for something to eat. And I came to the conclusion that with the exception of a token apple or two, only artificial food is allowed in this place.  If you ate here exclusively for a month (instead of at McDonald’s), there is no chance you would complete the assignment.

But it’s not just food that’s bad for you.  Something about this very entropic place actually manages to wick away your knowledge of the world; what time it is, what season it is, what neighborhood, city, region you are in.  And once the locational knowledge goes, it’s not long before basic identity info begins to go.  Forget eating at 7-Eleven for a month. Try living there.

We are bat-like creatures, bouncing signals off the world to locate ourselves in this world.  You can try this in 7-Eleven. But no signal returns.  You are lost in a box lost in space.

So what happens to the brand in this box? But of course it withers and dies.  It has been crafted by brilliant marketers. Millions have been spent to give it all but only the meanings that will make it resonant, interesting and vivid.  But none of these meanings are robust enough to survive the 7-Eleven.

And what happens to culture in this box?  Damaged beyond recognition.  It has been crafted by the rest of us.  And we what a thing we have accomplished.  Talk about resonant, interesting, and vivid. That’s us.  But even this is not robust enough to survive 7-Eleven.  It is impoverished and hollowed out.

There have been two recent attempts to save the 7-Eleven.  One was the Homer Simpson "endorsement."  D’ho!  I think this was a bad idea.  (See my blog post below for the larger argument).  More promising is the appointment of Rita Bargerhuff.  Yes, she was the one who okayed the Simpson endorsement.  And that tells us that she’s trying and that she knows the direction 7-Eleven must move: away from "convenience" (that concept that has underwritten so much bad design and experience) to something funny, playful, more responsive to the culture around it.

Who knows? Perhaps Bargerhuff will someday double as 7-Eleven’s CCO.


Hein, Kenneth.  2009.  7-Eleven Elevates Bargerhuff to CMO.  BusinessWeek.  November 18.  here.

McCracken, Grant.  2007.  Homer Simpson and the 7-Eleven Endorsement debacle.  This Blog.  July 17.  here.

Note: this post was lost due to Network Solution incompetence in December 2009.  I am reposted it today, December 24, 2010.