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Obnoxious Product Placement: E.T. Goes To Pieces


Candy's starring role demonstrates the power of marketing.


Admit it: You can't think of the movie E.T. without also thinking of Reese's Pieces. Searching "product placement" and "E.T." on Google will return almost 5,000,000 results.

Product placement has been used in film since the 1930s (when they were called tie-ups), but it wasn't until 1982's E.T. that it became an organized industry.

The Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media defines product placement as "the intentional appearance of a brand in programming that is driven by commercial intent."

Dr. Matt Soar, a communications studies professor at Montreal's Concordia University, told The Monitor newspaper that he expects the product placement industry to reach $9 billion by 2010.

As famous as the E.T.-Reese's Pieces hookup turned out to be, the marriage of peanut butter-flavored candies to a space alien with misshapen index fingers almost didn't happen.

obnoxious Director Steven Spielberg first approached Mars hoping to get permission to use M&M's in the film, but the chocolatier refused. He then hoped to substitute Hershey's Kisses (HSY) for M&M's. No dice. Finally, the film's co-producer, Kathleen Kennedy, was able to secure the rights to feature a newer Hershey product called Reese's Pieces.

Reese's Pieces look almost identical to M&Ms (save for their color), and their name isn't mentioned in any of the film's dialogue. Still, the sweets were hard to miss. Within 2 weeks of the movie's release, sales increased 65%.

In the book The Emperors of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey's and Mars, Jack Dowd, who was a Hershey's marketing executive at the time of the film, calls the deal "the biggest marketing coup in history." He adds that Hershey's got "immediate recognition for our product, the kind of recognition we would normally have to pay 15 or 20 million bucks for. It ended up as a cheap ride."

A cheap ride indeed. The total amount Hershey paid to have Reese's Pieces featured in a major blockbuster? Zero.

It's a far cry from the 2002 James Bond film, Die Another Day. Starring Samsonite luggage, Omega watches, a Phillips heart rate monitor, Bollinger champagne, Heineken beer, Sony (SNE) security systems, laptops, TV cameras and cellphones, British Airways, Aston Martin and Pierce Brosnan, the movie's product-placement tab totaled $120 million.

What's the future for advertising, er, product placement in movies?

Jay May, president of Los Angeles-based product placement agency Feature This points to Toy Story. It's box-office success resulted in a 4500% increase in Etch-A-Sketch sales and an 800% increase of Mr. Potato Head. "Slinky was out of business for 10 years," he explains. "But after 20,000 phone calls from distributors and toy stores, they went back in business. They've sold $27 million since."

May also believes product placement will soon be taken a step further. Eventually, when watching DVDs, "a bar code is going to pop up letting you know something is for sale, and you'll be able to buy it right off the screen."

Think you're immune to this so-called non-traditional advertising? Consider the case of O.J. Simpson. After his low-speed chase on the 405 freeway back in 1994, sales of the Ford Bronco he was driving rose 25%.

No positions in stocks mentioned.
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