Why in the world was a practically unknown candy chosen for the movie E.T. instead of M&M’s? What were they thinking?
If you were like me, when you first saw E.T. at the movies, and Elliot laid a trail of Reese’s Pieces for E.T. instead of M&M’s chocolate candies, you found it odd. Sure, Reese’s pieces were pretty but Elliot was MUCH more likely to have a bag of M&M’s! Reese’s pieces were practically a brand-new product at the time. It seemed like some kind of obvious product placement. And, in the novelized version of the movie, E.T. did indeed munch on M&M’s. So, why the difference?
The original script for E.T.. of course, called for Elliot to scatter a trail of M&M’s to lure E.T. Yet, when Amblin Entertainment asked the M&M division of Mars, Inc. for permission to feature M&M’s in the movie, the company refused! They decided that they didn’t want their candy to be associated with aliens or some such nonsense. This was perhaps one of the silliest decisions ever made by a food-related company. Absolutely mind-boggling! In fairness, they had no way of knowing how monumentally successful the movie would be, yet, others saw an opportunity and ran with it.
Hershey Company, apparently, had topped off their sugar and was able to think straight. According to sources at the time, such as New York Magazine, their permission wasn’t asked prior to Reese’s Piece being used. They went ahead and used it, and only afterward did they show Hershey and asked them to go in on a joint promotion. Jack Dowd, then vice-president of Hershey Co. was a bit hesitant, but after he viewed stills from the movie, he went in on a $1 million dollar promotion, including T-shirts and posters.
After the movie hit the theaters, sales of Reese’s pieces topped M&M’s for the first time ever. Sales of Reese’s Pieces went up by 65%, and soon they were being sold in theaters, where they had never been before. Mars probably regrets its decision to this day.
Sure, I had eaten my fair share of Reese’s Pieces before the movie came out, and I thought they were OK. But after the movie, why my kid’s brain thought, well, they must be better than I thought. I ate a lot more Reese’s Pieces afterward.
E.T. was, in general, a marketing bonanza. General Mills also released an E.T Cereal. Yet, Mars wasn’t the only company to miss out on this golden opportunity. For example, the E.T. action figures, which said “Elliot,” “ouch,” and “phone home” in E.T.’s voice, were manufactured by LJN Toys, LTD, after two other toy companies turned down an offer to make the dolls. Poor saps.
Of course, E.T. “golden touch” didn’t work for every product associated with the movie. The Atari E.T. video game, which also featured Reese’s pieces, which were scattered about and used to replenish E.T.’s energy, along with other purposes, is widely considered to be one of the worst video game ever produced, and even a big contributor to the video game crash of 1983.