Churches have long been an excellent place to market the latest release from Hollywood.
More recently, The Passion of the Christ was successfully marketed using pastors as pitchmen. I explain the extensive marketing campaign in Brands of Faith:
…it was the marketing that most people did not see that drove the ultimate success of The Passion. Grassroots marketing, led by [Mel] Gibson himself, was developed in conjunction with local churches throughout the country. Evangelicals, charismatics, and Roman Catholics were the target market for this film. Thirty invitation-only screenings were held for high-level church leaders and the heads of prominent evangelical organizations. The first of these occurred in Colorado Springs, Colorado, home of many of these institutions, not least of them ultra-conservative Focus on the Family run by James C. Dobson. The leaders of these organizations, and many others, were encouraged to purchase blocks of tickets for their institutions and to suggest that the local churches do the same. More than $3 million in advanced tickets sales were generated through this campaign.
After these private screenings, marketing materials were presented to churches through Outreach, Inc., a California-based organization that specializes in Christian marketing. Audience members were offered “door hangers, invitation cards, church bulletin inserts, Bible excerpts and study guides. In addition, in keeping with the latest trends in technology, over 250,000 DVD’s about the film were mailed to minister’s nationwide” (Caldwell, 2004 quoted in Maresco 2004). There were also millions of witness cards promoting the film on one side and providing an evangelical message on the other that were distributed and used by thousands of churches and religious organizations (Howard, 2004).
These church promotions began in December 2003 – a full two months before the movie opened. The “Pastors’ Action Kit” provided churches with information via the internet (www.passionmaterials.com) on how to tie into The Passion. This included showing trailers of the film at church, putting up banners, inviting parishioners to attend a screening, and, of course, buying out an entire theater screening and taking the congregation. Sermon suggestions were promoted to correspond with the Christian calendar, and information about what aspects of the movie to discuss in relationship to these sermons was provided. There were also special materials targeted to the teen audience via church youth groups; Teen Mania sponsored a site which provided a DVD set to aid youth workers in running “a four-week curriculum leading up to the movie, a guide to the outreach itself, and a two-week post-outreach curriculum” (Sheahen, 2004).
Churches were also given commercials that they could customize to tie the movie into their local church. Specifically what this meant was that a commercial was created with the first 20 seconds being footage from the movie while the last 10 seconds were left blank to be used to promote the local church. Someone seeing the commercial on television would see 20 seconds of trailer for The Passion, and be pulled in thinking they are watching a commercial for the movie and in the last 10 seconds they get presented with information about attending the local church. From a marketing perspective, it was a win-win – more exposure for the movie (paid for by the local church), and the local church gets to be connected with a major Hollywood hit.
Taking a page from The Passion, the folks at Warner Brothers have created a resource website for pastors, and provide free screenings for pastors. For more information on the site, go to CNN’s story, “Superman, Flying to a Church Near You.”
Promoting movies through churches is commonplace. In fact, showing clips from movies as part of the weekly sermon is common.
Media and religion are intertwined to day in a way they have never been before. However, I’m just not sure “The Man of Steel” is the right metaphor. “Passion of the Christ” and churches, I get. This one, not so much.