“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” turns 40 this year, and its impact on pop culture is immeasurable. But did you know on top of all the awards and critical acclaim, it also saved Reese’s Pieces? That’s right!
In 1978, Hershey Chocolate released Reese’s Pieces to the American market. The new candy did well, but by 1982, sales were starting to dwindle. It just so happens around the same time director Steven Spielberg was looking at potential product placement for his new film, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”
Spielberg’s team originally approached the Mars Chocolate Company to use M&Ms in the pivotal scene when Eliot lures E.T. out of the woods. The problem is product placement was a relatively new idea at the time. So it wasn’t an easy sell, even for the guy who made “Jaws.” But there was another catch- Spielberg wanted everything about the film under wraps, including the script and character design.
Mars was hesitant to say yes, causing them to drag out their decision. While they were Spielberg’s favorite candy, the wait made he and producer Kathleen Kennedy decide to explore other options. Logically, they went to the director’s second favorite candy, Reese’s Pieces, made by Mars’ competitor, The Hershey Company.
“I was just told that we weren’t given permission to use M&M’s, so I said, ‘Well, what’s my next favorite candy?'” Spielberg revealed. “Which [has] now become my most favorite candy, because I’ve been eating it now for 20 years and that’s Reeses Pieces. [Hershey] said yes and that became the candy of the hour.”
Universal worked with Jack Dowd, Director of New Products Development, at the time. He knew the candy needed something special to save it, and was willing to take the gamble on a rough sketch of the plot. He agreed to The Hershey Company providing $1 million worth of marketing through consumer promotions, trade promotions, and displays. All, of course, featuring the unknown alien. In return, Hershey got some serious product placement in the film.
“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” became the highest grossing film of 1982. It brought in over $350 million worldwide. Reese’s Pieces saw about a 65% spike in their sales. So the little alien saved the candy, making it synonymous with this classic film.
Pick some up on Amazon here. “E.T.” returns to theaters this summer for a special IMAX engagement.
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