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Re-release of Hollywood hit E.T. gets a not-so-Hollywood promo treatment

With the blockbusting release of Harry Potter and Monsters Inc. in November, two films that quickly reaped beyond the US$200-million marker, big studios are reveling in a veritable family film heyday. Now, with only months to go until the 20th anniversary March 2002 re-release of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, which will feature new scenes and computer-generated enhancements, Universal Pictures is gearing up for its turn--and that means its promotional machine is getting hot.
January 3, 2002

With the blockbusting release of Harry Potter and Monsters Inc. in November, two films that quickly reaped beyond the US$200-million marker, big studios are reveling in a veritable family film heyday. Now, with only months to go until the 20th anniversary March 2002 re-release of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, which will feature new scenes and computer-generated enhancements, Universal Pictures is gearing up for its turn–and that means its promotional machine is getting hot.

But while films possessing the money-making promise of an E.T. tend to inspire cheesy blitzkrieg-style promo campaigns, Universal has opted for a more selective approach in an attempt to preserve the revered image of the classic property. As a result, it has restricted its promo partners to traditional family-friendly companies Kraft, Hershey and Dairy Queen. ‘Our strategy has been to have limited but strong partners, not a myriad of them,’ says Beth Goss, senior VP of worldwide promotions for Universal Pictures. ‘It’s E.T. We wanted to avoid cheapening it.’

However, Universal’s efforts to avoid tarnishing E.T.’s image with a promiscuous marketing campaign haven’t kept promo costs down. While the studio doesn’t release budget figures, the relaunch of E.T.–which has grossed more than US$700 million at the box office and US$300 million in video sales to date–is Universal’s biggest 2002 campaign, besting that of The Scorpion King, the Mummy franchise prequel that’s set for release April 19. It will also dwarf the campaign that promoted the original E.T. debut–which isn’t difficult, since there wasn’t one.

Without any partners signed prior to its June 11, 1982, debut, the original E.T. promo didn’t get underway until after the movie took off, when Reese’s Pieces manufacturer Hershey and Pizza Hut came aboard. E.T. apparel, toys and video games also ensued–but only briefly. ‘After about a year, [Spielberg] said ‘I don’t want to do any more merchandising,” says Brad Globe, DreamWorks’ head of consumer products who worked on the original E.T. campaign at Amblin Entertainment. So as a result, the number-seven film of all time remained innocent of Hollywood-style promotion for 20 years.

In line with this legacy, Universal tried to both resurrect E.T. in the age of mass marketing and avoid upsetting fans with excessive commercialization by shying away from typical fast-food partners in favor of more traditional brands that reinforce the property’s family image.

Packaged goods sponsor Kraft is branding a reported 70 million packages of 29 products spanning categories such as cheese, cereal, biscuits and spoonables. It is also reported that Kraft will send 10 sweepstakes winners to the Universal Studios Florida space camp. TV ads, signage and in-pack E.T. figurines, phone cards, temporary tattoos and finger flashlights are also in the works.

Dairy Queen is onboard with a ‘Buy one Blizzard and Get the Second Blizzard for only 20 cents’ promo, which will run in 4,963 outlets with support from in-store POP displays, on-line promos and one week of State-side TV advertising. Plus, Hershey–which also partnered with Universal for The Grinch and Jurassic Park III–will showcase the relationship between Reese’s and E.T. with national TV advertising, free movie ticket offers, POS displays and an in-theater concession program.

Toys ‘R’ Us is the global merchandising licensee retailing five teen boy-targeting E.T. interactive products. And, in a 13-month campaign, Universal is branding all its divisions–including film, television, home entertainment, theme parks, music, consumer products, publishing and on-line properties–with a new E.T. logo that debuted in theaters at the November premiere of Spy Games.

Marketers hope this campaign will give new life to E.T.’s identity: ‘We don’t need help with the awareness of it,’ says Goss. ‘We need to bring E.T. back into the culture.’

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