The Reference Point for Product Placement

M&Ms passed up the opportunity to be the featured candy within the film, E.T., thereby missing out on one of the most successful demonstrations of product placement in films.

During the production of E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Ambling Productions contacted Mars Inc. about a potential duo for M&Ms and the film.  Oddly enough, Mars declined the offer.  One of the many reported reasons for this negative response was the fact that M&Ms’ executive thought no one would be interested in watching a film about a lonesome boy adopting an alien friend. Whatever the reason, Mars’ “no” eventually led the way to Hershey’s “yes.”

Hershey didn’t pay a single cent to have Reese’s Pieces featured in the film.  While this may come as a surprise, many placements, within films, are actually done for hardly any cost (Kolowich 1).  Hershey agreed to endorse E.T. with one million dollars for advertising in exchange for the product placement in the movie.

Within just the first two weeks of the films initial release, the sales of Reese’s Pieces went through the roof (without the need of a flying bicycle).

Scene from E.T. where Elliott is captured flying his bike, thanks to the help of his extra-terrestrial friend.

Sales for the candy were described to have increased by as much as 70% (Segrave 165).  The overnight success for Hershey’s Reese’s Pieces demonstrated to many brands and companies that advertising in films was the ideal way to go.  Not only did this idea create positive outcomes for Hershey, but also, filmmakers learned just how powerful and effective product placement could be towards producing a greater overall profit.

The infamous scene that eventually established itself as the reference point for product placement in films is featured below:

The script needed Elliott, the little boy and main character of the film, to seduce E.T. out of hiding.  Elliott did so by carefully placing a trail of Reese’s Pieces for E.T. to follow.

It should be noted that E.T. wasn’t the first instance of product embedding in films.  However, as previously mentioned, it was and still is regarded as one the most successful demonstrations.  This is due to the fact that Reese’s Pieces wasn’t just lazily placed in the movie.  Instead, the product served to be an integral aspect of the story’s plot.  In the Audio Boom podcast entitled, “Product Placement in Big Budget Films,” the host, Mark Johnson, adds to this idea about tying in products with the movie’s plot.  When referring to the idea of embedding a product in a film, Johnson explains how it’s crucial to allow the audience to see the product in a way that best aligns with the film’s plot (Johnson 5:58-6:30).

Managing to embed a product seamlessly into a film is every advertising company’s aspiration.  However, since most movie scripts are typically finalized well before the shooting takes place for a film, this creative effort, done by a marketing campaign, doesn’t typically happen.

The idea of having the product that’s being placed in a film somehow fit into the film’s story line, may be one of the most critical components for a film, when referring to product placement.  After all, some of the greatest movie-advertising product tie-ins, as seen with E.T., are those that occur naturally.  This natural way of advertising allows viewers to recognize the product, without acting as a distraction to the movie’s story.  Overall, this method, used in Spielberg’s E.T., helped exemplify how effective product placement can be in films.  It greatly impacted Hershey’s sales, bringing success to its business, in a time where many thought the company was near it’s downfall.


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