From 'E.T.' to 'Black Swan,' How Oscar Nods Influence Product Sales

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Last season, the New York City Ballet and other large dance companies in the U.S. had an average attendance of only 73 percent, according to Dance/USA. But this year, the City Ballet is facing a different attendance issue: sold-out tickets for their entire two-week run of “Swan Lake.”

What changed, you might ask? Two words: “Black Swan.” And one more word: “Oscar.”

At least a few arts journalists are arguing that the popularity of “Black Swan” - particularly after its Oscar nominations in several categories - has led audiences to a whole new level of appreciation for the ballet in general, and for “Swan Lake” in particular.

It may all be heresay, but even if it is, it wouldn’t be the first time that an Oscar nomination was rumored to change sales of items outside the theater.

Consider "E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial." Nominated for nine Oscars, including best picture, it won four. But in addition to being a truly great film, it’s also likely the greatest contributor to modern product placement. In a pivotal scene, Reese’s Pieces are used to lure the title character from his hiding place. Various reports say sales of the bite-sized candy jumped anywhere from 65 percent to 200 percent within weeks of the film’s release. No doubt, M&Ms are still kicking themselves for turning down the film.

Oscar winner “Wall Street” also contributed to sales of a consumer item, though not a particular name brand. According to a New York Magazine interview with Joel Henrie, a partner in Motion Picture Placement, suspender sales jumped after Best Actor Michael Douglas’s character sported them in several scenes.

On the flip side are Oscar nominees that hurt sales. One of the most notable is “It Happened One Night” (the first film to win the Oscar big five: actor, actress, director, screenplay, director). Urban legend (and more than a few legitimate sources) claim that undershirt sales plummeted by 75 percent after Clark Gable unbuttoned his dress shirt in one of the film’s more racy scenes, only to reveal there was no undershirt underneath.

Fearing that the Oscar-nominated film “Blood Diamond” would do for diamonds what “It Happened One Night” did for tee-shirts, the diamond industry launched an advertising counterattack against the anti-diamond industry movie. And it seems, in the end, they succeeded. There’s no conclusive proof that the film hurt diamond sales in any way.

One can only speculate what the next Oscar nominee will be to affect sales trends outside the theatre. Perhaps “The Kids are All Right” will bump up sperm bank purchases. Or maybe “Winter’s Bone” will lead to a dip in crystal meth sales. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if “127 Hours” led to more people buying very sharp knives. It’s hard sawing off your own hand with a blunt fold-up file. You need a good sharp blade to do that.

Or, at least, that's what I was thinking when I was at the knife store this morning.