One of the better known tales from the world of business blunders is the infamous story of the time M&Ms turned down a golden opportunity to be the treat that was used to lure E.T. out from his hiding place and into our hearts.
Steven Spielberg’s 1982 blockbuster earned a reputed $792 million worldwide by its third re-release in 2002, whilst The Hershey Company enjoyed a 65% increase in profits due to the prominent use of their Reece’s Pieces snack in the film.
Amblin productions initially approached Mars during the production of E.T. to enquire about a possible tie-in between M&M’s and the film. Mars said, ‘no,’ to the proposal for reasons that have been continually debated by movie and business experts ever since.
One theory is that Mars simply didn’t like the idea of its product being associated with an extra-terrestrial living with an earth family, another is that an M&M executive didn’t see the potential in the concept of the film.
What is clear is that whatever the reason was for Mars walking away from the deal, with the benefit of hindsight it appears to be a woefully inept piece of commercial decision making. There could be a whole plethora of legitimate and logical reasons as to why Mars decided to make the choice they did and it’s quite plausible that a company of that size may have had its advertising budgets locked down, or they may have been uncomfortable operating in a relatively new advertising medium and the associated strategic differentials this would bring.
Alas – the ‘no,’ from Mars morphed into a, ‘yes,’ from Hershey who smartly snapped up the opportunity.
Hershey didn’t have to pay for their Reece’s Pieces product to be used in E.T. but a deal was constructed whereby the sweet maker agreed to do a tie-in with the movie and their product after the film was released. The small print of the contract apparently included a $1million commitment from Hershey to promote the film with traditional advertising and in return Hershey could use E.T. in its own adverts.
Within two short weeks of the movie’s release, sales of Reece’s Pieces had sky rocketed as a previously unaware public suddenly flocked to grab a handful of the treats. The product up until that point had been a barely known minnow in the world of candy consumption and a legacy brand was born off the back of a funny looking alien with a penchant for interstellar telephony.
If Mars hadn’t been on such another planet when originally approached by Spielberg, the snack, Reece’s Pieces may well have remained unknown to the masses – as if they were in a completely separate universe altogether.