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Sweet Mistake:One of the first examples of product ad placement.

Updated on March 11, 2013

Was E.T supposed to be eating M&M's in that historical scene with Drew Barrymore all those years ago? If Steven Spielberg would have had his way, that is exactly what would have happened. Yet instead, we will always think of aliens munching down on their rival candy, Reese's pieces.

All companies have to make daily decisions based on statistics and their own opinions. These guesses or estimates can make or break a company’s bottom line. Decisions are made as to what products to run, what markets to run them in and the advertising that goes along with it. In such a fickle market, how is one to know what will sell and what won’t?

Through market research and past experience, CEO’s and other leaders make estimates on how and what will sell. Sometimes these turn out to be great and sometimes it can cause great financial loss, maybe even the end for a lot of companies. One of the first earliest examples of product ad placement is an example of one company’s good decision and another’s estimating nightmare.

Steven Spielberg’s great hit in the early 80’s E.T., captured the hearts of a generation. Before the movie’s debut in 1982 Steven went to M&M (Mars) executives asking to use their candy in a pinnacle scene in his movie. Most remember the scene of the little boy coaxing his new alien friend into his home with little colored candies, however if you look closely, they are not M & Ms. Keen eyes will see that they are orange and brown Reese’s Pieces.

Mars had decided to not go with the movie for whatever reason. None have ever been admitted by the company, however speculators have many theories. One is that the company did not want to associate themselves with the movie. Whether it was because of the movies extra terrestrial topics or that the movie just wouldn’t sell. Others think that maybe they already had their advertisements plots mapped out for the year or some other business issue. Whatever the reason, many agree it was a big mistake.

Now the Reese’s Pieces line was introduced in 1978, selling a modest 30 million dollars in sales before E.T. premiered. A couple weeks later the sales had tripled, climbing rapidly in the weeks to follow. This was described by Hershey’s executive Jack Dowd as “The biggest marketing coup in history.” Hershey paid nothing to have it featured in the movie, although they did agree to do a million dollars worth of advertisements featuring the lovable alien after the release.

Through hard advertising and giveaway campaigns, Hershey’s made the most of their decision. Mars never did comment on the great success of the film or the advertisement tied to it, however we all know it hurt. It put Hershey in the running with them, who before was only doing marginal. It makes you wonder if they would have said yes, if we would still be enjoying Hershey’s chocolate bars.

Mars’s bad estimate on the film, cost them millions in advertising power and long run sales. Although it did not cripple their company, I do think that it hurt the market place by giving their competitor’s such an advantage. Estimates of the amounts, the advertisements were worth 15-20 millions dollars. Hershey’s ran a campaign twenty years later for the twentieth anniversary portraying America’s beloved alien. Sales did not shoot up like at the release, however both sales of the movie and the candy saw increases.


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    • r31009 profile image

      r31009 5 years ago

      Cool like the picher!

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      Nicely written and great insight! Voted up!