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Chronicles of Inspired Marketing

15 Dec, 2005 By: Erik Gruenwedel

The Chronicles of Narnia

Hollywood marketers are finding religion.

The success of Walt Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe could be attributed to the studio reaching out to faith-based groups and churches with targeted ads and study guides.

Coming on top of the surprise success of last year's The Passion of the Christ — also heavily marketed in churches — Narnia's big take shows how influential this audience can be at the box office.

But faith-based marketing isn't only a theatrical technique. Home entertainment suppliers have been flocking to the congregation for some time.

Producers of independent Christian feature film Left Behind: World at War canvassed more than 3,000 churches with DVD screeners the weekend prior to the title's Oct. 25 video release from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment this summer launched a Web site (Foxhome.com/foxfaith/) highlighting religious and family-themed movies — including those approved by The Dove Foundation, which gauges levels of sex, language, violence, drugs, nudity and occultism in a film.

Steve Feldstein, SVP of marketing communications with Fox, said the site emanated in part due to requests for title information the studio receives monthly from hundreds of churches.

“This is not proselytizing some kind of message,” Feldstein said. “The films happen to be good entertainment. We see [the site] as being able to provide product to an underserved market.”

Ardustry Home Entertainment, which this year launched its Walk with Faith spiritual label, includes a tithing card with each religion-themed DVD. Consumers can mail back the card with the church of their choice and Ardustry will tithe that church 10 percent of the purchase price.

“[Passion of the Christ] was a big wakeup call to the studios,” said Ardustry CEO Cheryl Freeman. “We believe that if we are going to be involved with religion, we should also be tithing.”

Maverick Home Entertainment began marketing Christian comedy videos in 2003, launching its Spirit label shortly thereafter. The Deerfield, Fla.-based studio in January bows Man of Faith (DVD $14.98), starring Faye Dunaway and Robert Wagner, and the family-themed A Shepherd of Pure Heart (DVD $14.98).

To infiltrate the urban Gospel market, Maverick is working with Christopher Martin's (“House Party” franchise) Amen Films, the Atlanta-based company that helped define the term “holy hip-hop.”

“We are using that talent and fan base and marketing machine [aligned to Christian TV stations, church Web sites and gatherings] to target the right consumers,” said Maverick CEO Doug Schwab.

“Maybe there won't be another Passion like there wasn't another Blair Witch Project, but that hasn't dampened the market for horror films. There is still a huge demand. That is the same for the Christian market.”

To promote the documentary DVD Hoover Street Revival (prebook Jan. 3; street Feb. 7, $14.99), Tartan Video worked closely with the film's main character, Bishop Noel Jones, and his church in South Central Los Angeles. When Jones gave sermons and made appearances, Tartan supplied him with flyers promoting the DVD.

Tartan president Tony Borg said Hoover Street was a learning experience that stressed the importance of building relationships in the genre.

“We worked closely with their online presence, in the church and onsite at conventions and festivals,” Borg said. “We also partnered with Central South Gospel, a leading distributor of gospel and religious product, which helped us find niche retailers we couldn't otherwise find.”

Oft cast in a pivotal, if not always complimentary, role in filmed entertainment, Catholic churches would appear to be less open to co-promoting faith-based films, according to Rodrigo Brandao, director of publicity with Kino International.

The distributor has two feature films — Jesus, You Know (DVD $29.95) and The Ninth Day (DVD $29.95) — both of which showcase philosophical and historical investigations on specific Catholic traditions. The titles appeal to audiences willing to approach religion from an intellectual — not emotional — perspective.

“That usually limits the audiences for these films,” Brandao said. “The challenge when marketing these pictures is to find groups and churches that are willing — and open — to use these films as starting points for discussions and further debates on the practice of religion.”

MTI Home Video received positive buzz (including a write-up in Entertainment Weekly) for Confessions (DVD $24.95), the distributor's first faith-based title. Mindful of the Catholic churches' ongoing priest scandals, the film's producers sent churches promotional material extolling the film's intriguing storyline and positive message toward the church and priests.

“It is not a religious film,” an MTI spokesperson said. “But it holds up the honor and truth priests are held to. It is really a thriller, which is why it appealed to church organizations. It didn't vilify the Catholic church.”

Monterey Media generated $1.2 million in single-day revenue at 503 churches and 100 AMC theatres for Indigo, a faith-based film about a little girl with a special spiritual connection. The event helped market the DVD.

Monterey hopes to duplicate the strategy and outcome for The Blue Butterfly, a family film starring William Hurt about a miracle that befalls a boy diagnosed with terminal cancer. The Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based distributor is marketing the film (which streets May 23 on DVD at $24.95) to charitable and church organizations as a fundraising and revenue vehicle.

The title is also available for a limited time as an “Event in a Box.” This $25 promotion includes the DVD, T-shirt, Lance Armstrong style wristband; temporary tatoos and donation forms to organizations such as the Make a Wish Foundation, Children's Cancer Research Fund and National Brain Tumor Foundation.

Interested parties can download promotional flyers and screening contracts at www.bluebutterflythemovie.com.

“Church organizations charge admission, and we get a cut of the gross,” said Monterey CEO Scott Mansfield. “We've created this hybrid: theatrical and nontheatrical release. These are paid exhibitions. Each organization is using [the film] for different reasons.”

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