Test: E.T. and Reese’s Pieces

Product Placement at E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

The product placement of Hershey’s Reese ‘s Pieces in Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” is probably one of the most famous placements ever. Although product placement has been practiced since the 1890s, the marketing tactic got popular in 1982 with E.T.

At the request of Spielberg this premium placement should go to M&M’s (Mars Inc.). Since Mars saw no potential in the later Oscar winning movie, Hershey succeeded and landed one of the biggest coups of marketing history. They also benefited, among other things, from the fact that product placement was not intensively known by the general public (more on this in our conclusions).

We have reviewed and tested the placement with our algorithm!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Back then, we were using the first prototype of our software for this test. A similar test with our new and more advanced software leads to slightly different results.


The relevant scenes

The product appeared in two different variants (packaging with logo & chocolate beans) several times. For our test, we have considered all presentations. One very small presentation and the bare chocolate beans maybe could have been ignored. We have included them, because the audience should recognize the product even at this presentations due to the very prominent placement.

The prominent part takes place in the first quarter of the movie, as Elliott lays a trail of chocolate beans in the forest. This is followed by E.T. tracking it up to Elliott’s room. Reese ‘s Pieces is very intense and appropriately integrated into the plot.

  • 3 different settings as Elliott lays a trail in the forest
  • 5 settings as E.T. comes to Elliott



In addition, the chocolate beans are shown again in the forest, and the packaging is clearly visible in another scene in Elliott’s room (second quarter of the film).

  • 1 Setting: chocolate beans in the forest, when found by the feds
  • 1 Setting in Elliott’s room when E.T. eats


Assumptions on objectives, market and business

As described in our last post, for a successful measurement, it is essential to classify the goals of the company and the details of the market. Since we do not have any insider information from 30 years ago, we made appropriate assumptions.

Since Reese ‘s Pieces has been released in 1987 (more information here), we assume that the advertising tactic should primarily generate short-term attention. Due to the very thoughtful placement, we also assume that attention should not be achieved at any price, but in a smart way.

The market for chocolate products is very large. The number of competitors is, strictly speaking, not that big. However, because it is perceived quite larger from the consumer’s perspective, we have chosen an intermediate value here.

We estimated the market share of Hershey as well as of its largest competitor at 30% each. This assumption is based on current values and previous developments.

We also assume that the action was focused on the U.S. market and should appeal to people (not gender specific) between 8 and 35 years (focusing more on the younger ones). Due to the short time between the market launch of Reese’s Pieces and the release date of E.T., the familiarity with the brand was certainly rather low. The reputation among people, who know the brand, should have been rather good.

The product is very well recognizable by its clear logo, its memorable and unique packaging as well as the rather unusual (M&M’s excluded) form.

Due to the market launch of Reese’s Pieces a few years earlier and the fact that Hershey had started a large advertising campaign at the movies release date, we also assume that the placement was accompanied permanently by other campaigns.


Test with Placedise

All presentations are purely visual. An endorsement is also given – although the product is not explicitly promoted by the actor, it seems so due to the way it is included.

In addition to the placement of Reese ‘s Pieces, the movie still contains some other competing advertising objects. In the category of sweets and drinks for example PEZ (mentioned by name and explicitly promoted) or Coca Cola (multiple times explicitly promoted). There is even more product placement, which doesn’t need necessarily be considered as competitive based on the product category: Audi, Atari (with Asteroids), Budweiser, and Old Spice.

An explicit reference or label to the product placement is given as Hershey had put the placement explicitly into focus – aside the movie.

The congruence between the product placement and the frame medium can be assumed as very high, as a movie, which is mainly addressed to children, happens to go very well with chocolate (given the way of integration) – especially because it is presented in a very realistic way. The plot connection is obviously very high.

Although the product is implemented in a very prominent way and is very well recognizable, it is not directly recognizable as advertising. This is due to the fact that the integration is simply consistent with the plot, but also the fact that product placements were not as common in 1982, as it is today. Therefore, most consumers had certainly not yet established an subconscious recognition mechanism for this kind of advertising.

Finally, the relevant scenes are rather exciting – although not as exciting as some other scenes. The scene can be described as warm and positive. The frame medium is generally of very high value.

After entering these values, the Placedise software calculates a PDGA (Potential Degree of Goal Achievement) value of 87.82 %, which is very good.


Test of alternatives with Placedise

For a more precise classification of the PDGA result, we have the parameters varied and retested.

At a lower connection of the product with the plot (less plot connection) the PDGA decreases by 0.77. Also the change appears minimal, it is quite clear – especially because the bigger leverage effect can be rather achieved by general settings (e.g. book instead of movie).

If you test the goal of optimizing long term reputation rather than “more attention”, the result of the main test (with changed goal value) is a PDGA of 63.73. The lower value (compared with the first test) results from the fact that the new goal is generally more difficult to achieve, as the first one (attention). Nevertheless, this value is pretty good as well. At a lower plot connection the value decreases by 0.39.



The great impact of the tested product placement is clearly demonstrated by the numbers of Hershey (65 % jump in sales).

Our tests have proven that this was not just a coincidence, but the result of a good implementation of the product. At the same time, Hershey also benefits from the fact that product placement had not yet reached the minds of the general public in 1982. If you’d execute the same test under the premise that the placement is very much recognizable as advertising, so the placement would still be good, but would be even better at a lower plot connection.

Our test hopefully also demonstrated how Placedise works in detail and how to read the results of our tests. It is very important, to compare the results only within a project (the same goal, product and market), since the PDGA substantially depends on those values.

We advise not to take the Reese’s Pieces placement as a standard model for every product or brand placement. A similar placement with a beer brand in a family movie would nowadays (especially in Northern Europe) lead to negative effects!

Placedise can protect you against such wrong decisions. 😉

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Jens Kuerschner

Author: Jens Kuerschner

Jens Kuerschner is founder and CEO of Placedise. As an expert in the field of consumer behavior and media enthusiast, he is especially responsible for the product know-how. In our blog, this knowledge and the experience of many years of research and study will be shared with you.

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