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What you see is what they want you to get

Ever since 'E.T.' landed, advertisers have been hungry to have their products 'placed' in films

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Americans had a funny response to the movie "E.T., the Extraterrestrial" when it first came to theaters 20 years ago: They started eating a lot more Reese's Pieces candy.

Sales of the candy increased by 65 percent just a few weeks after the film came out in 1982, according to Business Week magazine.

What did a movie about an alien creature have to do with candy?

The people who made the movie wanted E.T. to have a favorite snack. Then they had another idea. They went to the makers of M&Ms candies and said: "We'll use your candy, if you'll help advertise our film when it comes out." M&Ms said no. Reese's Pieces said yes.

Millions of people watched the movie, and many probably learned about the candy for the first time. It was the best advertisement Reese's could have hoped for.

It was also the beginning of what is called "product placement." Companies have worked hard ever since to get their products included in movies, on TV, and now even in video games. Sometimes they pay a movie studio to use their products on-screen. Others agree to advertise the movie in return.

Some products are so popular that they don't need to exchange anything in order to appear in a movie. A product like Coca-Cola, for example, is such a big part of American culture that it only seems natural to see it in movies.

Most movies now include dozens of product placements. Some in the movie business say that using real products makes entertainment seem more real.

But specific products are primarily used for two reasons: (1) to make money for filmmakers, and (2) to get viewers to buy the products.

Product placements have become enormously popular over the past 15 years.

The movie "Wayne's World" (1992) taught viewers about product placement when the main characters stopped in the middle of the film and said it was time for a "product placement moment."

"Ever since then, kids know better than adults," about product placement, says Jay May, president of Feature This!, a product-placement firm in Los Angeles. "The younger generation is very aware of it."


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