E.T. Sure Did Love His M&Ms

How this alien sold candy with product placement, and amplification

Apr 11, 2016 · 3 min read

Over the weekend I spoke at the Craft Content Nashville conference and I was blown away by two things:

  1. The amazing amount of knowledge and information I learned from speakers like Pamela Wilson, Angus Nelson, and Jeff Sanders.
  2. The vast array of interpretations of the word story.

I was blown away how each speaker interpreted the word based on their contexts, in such creative and unique ways. Given the fact that I have grown up on western story structure and pop culture, I have my own take on the word and how it applies to marketing, social media, and live streaming.

In my presentation I talked about three core components that drive engagement in social campaigns; story, product placement, and amplification.


The three act structure (exposition, rising conflict, resolution) is how, we in the western world, typically consume most story telling, especially in movies. In action movies, screen writers often describe the three act structure as:

Put the hero in the tree. Throw rocks at the hero. Get the hero out of the tree.

When we are creating content of any form, you can employ similar methodology, for instance:

Watch @shawncmatthews skydive for charity. He is terrified of heights, but we need to raise $10k so he’s ignoring his fear and will jump today!

While it’s hard to make every Tweet compelling, the principle applies. As you build out longer forms of content or even campaigns you can use this structure to guide your content.


I’m sure everyone here knows the story of ET, the lovable alien who is stranded and his friend Elliot reluctanly helps him find his way home.

ET is great on so many levels, but like most Speilberg films it’s storytelling at it’s best. You see, a great story often contains the following elements:

Great stories have a HERO, a HOOK & a VILLAIN. The hero has BAGGAGE, a BUDDY & a STRUGGLE to overcome. HEARTSTRINGS are pulled & then there is RESOLUTION.

Another thing I loved about the movie is how they used product placement. If you saw the movie, you know how much ET loved m&ms. I mean he loved m&ms! In fact he loved them so much that Elliot uses them to lure et into the woods so he can be rescued.

I see some of you shaking your heads. And your right, ET didn’t love m&ms, he loved Reeses Pieces. You know why? Because Speilberg was rejected by the Mars Candy Company (maker of M&M’s) and Hershey’s was waiting in the wings.

The result was textbook! Before E.T. came out, Hershey’s couldn’t give Reeses Pieces away. Then using the amplification of the day, which was traditional media, word of mouth, cooperative advertising, commercials, and of course the movie itself, sales of the candy took off.

In our modern context of Netflix, Periscope, Facebook Live, and so on, I call these product placements, streamplacing or streamplacements and you can read the full article about them here.

How can you incorporate all of these components into your content creation? Whether it’s a Tweet or three month campaign, try thinking about your content like a Hollywood producer and infusing story with product placements that are amplified by social.

Shawn Matthews

Written by

I move the needle for startups to billion-dollar brands. Brand strategist. Connector. Problem Solver. Thinker. Mover. Doer.

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