Cover image courtesy of Universal Pictures, Amblin Entertainment & The Hershey Company
by Jeffrey Davies
Today, Reese's Pieces are a household name. Whether it's the classic peanut butter-filled pieces or cups, Reese's candies come in a variety of forms. But back in the early 1980s, they were barely known. Until Steven Spielberg worked his magic in more ways than one.
Reese's Pieces were first released by Hershey Chocolate in 1978. They were a moderate success, but they needed something to keep them on the map.
'80s kids might remember that in Spielberg's beloved film E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, young Elliot (Henry Thomas) lures E.T. out of the forest and into his house by creating a trail of Reese's Pieces candy.
Through our modern eyes, this appears as nothing but simple product placement. But it was singlehandedly responsible for increasing the sales of Reese's Pieces worldwide, by a lot.
If Steven Spielberg had his way, the candy used in that scene would have been M&M's, which were his favorite. But product placement was relatively new at the time, and Mars Incorporated, who own M&M's, declined to give permission for the candy to be used in E.T.
Thus, Spielberg and Universal had to start looking elsewhere for a similar candy that Elliot could use to get E.T.'s attention. Due to their resemblance to M&M's, Reese's Pieces were the logical next option, and they happened to be the director's second favorite candy. The Hershey Company would have been fools to pass up the opportunity to plug their drowning new candy in a mainstream Hollywood film.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Reese's Pieces saw a 65% sales increase following the global success of E.T., and nowadays the candy is forever associated with the loveable little alien for most diehard cinema fans.