In 2002, the movie industry meant intense competition; the movie maker industry and independent studios were dominated by giant studios: Paramount, Sony, Buena Vista, Universal, 20th Century Fox and Warner Brose dealt with financing, producing and distributing their own movies. Even more, the number of movies dropped and the total admissions went up as the admission price.
In this picture, big studios had to find multiple revenue sources to assure their profits and expanded to pay television, home video, video games and merchandising. With religious movies practically inexistent in box office charts since The Ten Commandments and Ben Hurt in the 1950, The Passion of the Christ needed to make some really good marketing strategy in order to assure even a modest spot on the Hollywood stage.
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With no certainty that his movie will even be finally released, Mel Gibson started in the mummer of 2003 a brainchild testing campaign: he concentrated on an extensive invitation-based campaign of pre-screenings among Christian leaders, religious organizations, Journalists, political personalities with religious initiatives and Jesuits in order to gather information, opinions and hopefully create ambassadors for The Passion.
Followed by questions & answers sessions, Gibson and his team could observe the dynamics of mixed opinions: an encouraging response came from religious leaders who gave their strong support towards the movie, as well as a critical approach of experts’ concussions concerning the high level of violence, the inaccuracy of the screenplay and the commentaries accusing the film of anti-Semitic message. The intensive grassroots marketing campaign, curiosity concerning the movie’s fate and word-of mouth together with the highly star profile of Gibson and icon people attracted as movie ambassadors created a vociferous buzz around the movie.
With a huge natural market of over a quarter of Americans who identify them as evangelical Christians according to a Belief poll (Parker 2004), the proof that religious communities are ready to support, spread the word and consume the movie ND a healthy quantity of controversy in media, Gibson went on to find a distributor and marketer ready to get The Passion to the market. In September 2003 Marketed signed the contract of marketing and distributing the movie in the US, the studio needing to respond to stringent questions about their marketing decisions, ones which could have buried or exalt Gibbon’s $30 million project.
The crucial dilemma Marketed had to respond concreted on two fronts: advertising strategy and distribution strategy: from the advertising point, should the company stick to the grassroots marketing campaign which seemed more friendly at the moment but which implied the risk of not getting enough return or switch of mass-marketing approach which could give the return but could also attract haters and transform the movie into a calumnious target? Also, from the distribution point of view should the team consider wide distribution and compete with big studios productions or stick to the limited release and hope for growth?
Rule of thumb within the industry was for those in Market’s position to enter a market by a limited release, in a high audience season and guide a marketing strategy for a “specialty’ movie with limited appeal. A. Advertising Strategy – Direct Mass Marketing After an intensive prescribing campaign it was the time to decide how the promotion of the movie will look like. Marketed chose direct mass marketing as the advertising strategy for The Passion. Following the decisions they have made in advertising and distribution, I extract and illustrate with specifics 5 apprenticeships led the movie to success. . Segmentation Principle: Choose natural self-made market Marketed understood the importance for the movie of not being everything to everyone. The company concentrated its attention instead on a big, organized, well- unconnected active Christian community who was already buzzing about the movie after the grassroots intensive campaign and expressed support as the primary audience for The Passion. The project’s audience comprised, according to Caldwell, of Evangelicals, conservative Roman Catholics and Charismatic.
This decision was a premise for success as: – Christian communities were naturally homogeneous and interconnected so spreading an idea ad encouraging word-of-mouth was easy; – Christian communities had already an interest towards religious projects so their attention could be easily guided towards the movie with the right push; Christian communities were very active in religious initiatives so that drive could be directed around the movie if conviction was created that it serves their purpose. 2.
Attraction Principle: From vendor into partner Marketed decided next that the demand to flexibility should not be demanded to customers, but to the company. As such, the company observed its market and did not ask for it to change, but it adapted its position from vending to partnering. The marketing team did this by extracting the most powerful interests of the market and Joining to their efforts: Christian communities were always interested in getting UT in the world with the religious message and evangelize the world.
As Christians tried it multiple times in different forms in the long of the years and had mixed responses from a modern, very entertaining society, they needed a new form of getting out in the world and beat distractions. Therefore Marketed presented itself as the revolutionary tool provider for the Christian mission of getting out in the world: The Passion was envisioned not as a simple religious movie, but as a precious tool the speaking religious message to the modern society in its most popular language: screen. Presage Principle: Presser, measure and prepare Marketed came to the market with ideas of evangelism that had products attached. Their purpose was to determine demand, to measure potential, to create buzz and, why no, sell. They succeeded this by merchandising efforts comprised of selling: – tickets: leaders of the church encouraged people to buy large blocks of tickets and the idea of getting with the religious community to the cinema to see The Passion became a tool for fellowship and evangelism. Film-related products such as licensed cross-nail pendants ($12. 9 and $16. 99), coffee mugs, coffee table books, door hangers, invitation cards, church bulletin inserts, study guides, screen savers, posters, fliers, email graphics, bulletin inserts and artwork were also introduced in Christian retailers and stores and well as online shop. – witness cards: promoting the movie on one side and having an evangelical message on the other to promote Christianity as well as the movie, more than 1 million cards were sold for $5. 5 a pack of 25 (Howard 2004). – instrumental soundtrack of the movie released by Sony Music and Integrity Music old over 50,000 units the day of the release, peaking at number non the Billboard album charts. (Thompson 2004). – DVD’S copies of the film: 4. 1 million sold the release day, according to Fox Home Entertainment. Estimates of editor-in-chief Scott Whittier for “DVD Exclusive” were that DVD alone would generate sales of 18 million copies for a final amount of $400 million (Hibernia, Yahoo News. Com). The Passion: Photography from the Movie: the movie’s unique book that reached to its eight printing (Thompson 2004) and was intended to publish the book in eight foreign languages. 4. Blend-in Principle: Use familiar channels to your market Marketed handed its advertising distribution to already in place, familiar to the target market, connected distributors. The mass marketing with film-related products was delegated to Outreach Inc, a Christian marketing materials producer and distributor who came to the market after the initial thirty prescribing with their promotional products.
The promotional material was also distributed online. With 128 million American using Internet at that time and 38% on that number using it to forward material with religious content, according to a 2003 survey Pew Internet and American Life Project, online stream for promoting The Passion was surely into the marketing equation. Icon Distribution enlisted the help of On Core Group, a Christian marketing firm that created and managed the site www. Pessimistically. Mom where customers could find film related products. The official website of the movie also included a link to www. Differentiations. Com offering T-shirt designs and to www. sharethepassionofthechrist. Com with official licensed products movie related and www. Adventitiousness. Com was the virtual window to movie cravenness and artwork. 5. Delegation Principle: Delegate customers to reach & spread Icon Distribution and Marketed had a very clear image of how they would want the customers to work for them.
Bob Barney, the arm of distribution and marketing at Marketed was an expert in promoting movie via word-of-mouth marketing campaigns. They decided to create paths of action the customers take and become marketing volunteers or ambassadors for the movie. They reached different groups with specific call-to-action: -church leaders: after gaining leaders as supporters of the movie within prescribing, other 250,000 DVD’s about the film were mailed to minister’s sanitation (Caldwell 2004).
This gained key leaders to validate the movie, to spread the word and use their influence to encourage their communities to buy blocks of tickets, use witness cards and participate at church events using the same products in evangelize purposes. – students: www. Exhaustiveness’s. Com was a website created with the purpose of student manipulation (Parker 2004) which included chat rooms, press room for students newspapers and promotion report where students had the possibility to communicate with the film’s distributors about the atmosphere in their campuses. Suitors of the Passion website: the website offered visitors a detailed planning timeline for specifically preparing a week of religious events surrounding the release of the movie (Pastors’ Action Kit). First it encouraged ministers to buy supporting materials, then instructed them to show trailers of the movie in churches for it to peak with encouraging fans to invite friends to view the movie and attend follow-up sessions. This growth in intensity of the call-to-action was highly successful as churches finalized by renting entire theatres for the release time of The Passion.
B. Distribution Strategy – Wide Release Marketed objective when dealing with a movie was that promised both artistic and commercial merit. The Passion had a great emotional and moral risk involved, but as it had the appeal, it was a risk the company classified worth taking. How should the potential of the movie be capitalized and risks minimized? Decisions needing to be taken assuming the fact the decision taken could determine success or disaster in the release timing and release screens.
In this case also, taking into consideration the decisions involved I extract two distribution principles: 1. Lean Timing Principle: Avoid tough competition if you have the choice Because of sales seasonality, there was a constant battle between releasing a movie in weekends when audience is large, but so is competition or choose a not-so-attractive timing with the belief that the movie will stand out between the others and will call people into the cinemas.
The marketing team for The Passion chose to release the movie on Ash Wednesday, February 25, 2004, facing a not so powerful competition (Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, Retrofit, 50 First Dates) and believing prospects will be to the release ND not engage to compete on Easter Weekend with blockbusters as The Alamo or other high-potential movies. 2. Market Coverage Principle: Attain as much of your market if you have the means The decision of the marketing team was to choose between limited and wide release.
The limited release risk was not reaching enough of the market, the risk of a wide release was not recovering financially if people did not show up in cinemas. The Passion of the Christ was watched on Ash Wednesday 2004 in 3000 theatres, 4000 prints, and benefiting of a debut wide release. In an intense, immense and highly competitive movie industry were big projects with exorbitant budgets collapse in the first days of release before even rising, how did The Passion succeeded to avoid The Trap? How did the project prosper?
What the marketing team did that was so different in order to get such a fan epidemic? In 2000, Malcolm Caldwell, a sociologist who brilliantly combines science, sociology, psychology and pop culture in his writings published “The Tipping Point”, a book about how small things can determine changes of big proportions. There he explains how, by an invisible metric, epidemic behaviors are put in place for everything that becomes a trend. His idea is simple: from fashion trends to delinquency levels we can understand the laws governing the social outputs by seeing them as epidemics.
Caldwell suggests there are three laws: The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor and The Power of the Context; laws working together to create an epidemic. Every epidemic, trend that succeeded fulfilled in time these laws. Firstly, by The Law of the Few the sociologist observes in order to create an epidemic one needs people with specific skills involved: connectors, mavens and salesmen. Connectors -the ones who have the connections in the market, who know people room different areas, the bridge between different social worlds, with the power to spread a word rapidly in multiple directions people specialists.
Then Mavens are the information specialists – they detain information about present promotions at the biggest retailer chains, the best computers to buy and why, when is the time to buy tickets for vacation etc. They have the first-hand information about a product, event or idea. Finally, the salesmen are the persons who can convince when one’s not convinced, they can exert a great influence over the environment by their sociability and persuasion. Secondly, by the Stickiness Factor Caldwell adds that in order for an epidemic to launch it needs not only skilled people, but it also needs an adherent message.
The message the few propagate needs to be memorable, so irresistible in order to charm the few, then pass the social barriers and noise every idea meets. Thirdly, an epidemic needs The Power of the Context by its side: “epidemics are sensitive at the conditions and circumstances of time and space in which they are produced”, Caldwell declares in his book. The Power of the Context consists in two dimensions: environment characteristics and community. He suggests that “the motivation to adopt a specific behavior does not come from a specific human quality, but from an environment characteristic. And in order to fundamentally change convictions and behaviors one needs a community to exert the change as a new social experience. By observing the marketing strategy, decisions the principles the marketing team adopted for the Passion project in in mirror with the epidemic laws, a very surprising similarity came to the surface: the unusual market choices the Passion marketing team took had to find their explanation in some social facts. We will observe next what Marketed and Icon Distribution did in order to avoid the trap was determining a fan outbreak by following perfectly the three Social Laws of an Epidemic.
The first thing Marketed and Icon did was decide not to serve a full audience. By taking into consideration the religious specifics of the project they created a segment, a specific market as its primary audience for the movie who was to get all the attention and marketing effort involved. They avoided the trap of being everything for everyone by choosing to address to the limited Christian market segment ad stick to t. If they were to get into the trap of big production companies they would have most likely fall into a hostile market environment from potential customers and harsh undesired competition from industry giants.
Sticking to this market segment was genius as they used the Law of the Few to involve in their marketing efforts connectors in the form of church leaders who had connections all around the country with congregations, mavens in the form of theologians who dictated the information as good and salesmen in the form of Journalists and public personalities who spread he word and used their influence by their writings or word-of-mouth to convince the market. The hook to getting the virus to all the key people was the successful prescribing campaign, the laboratory of the epidemic.
But the trap to see this movie as a commodity could have existed even in the Christian segment; lots of religious movies are produced and released with no success. What was the difference between the Passion and other religious movies? The second great element that assured avoidance of the commodity trap was the Stickiness Factor: even other religious movies are ignored even by Christian immunities; the message of The Passion was so irresistible and memorable that it was impossible to forget.
Firstly it talked about the central event in Christianity, the core of the life of every Christian person – the death and resurrection of Christ. That was a memorable message. Secondly, the manner in which it was presented by the specificities of the production made it authentic and irresistible. The Christian market which had an education towards respect, attention and admiration towards religious did not permitted them to relate to the movie with ignorance, and the powerful message became an irresistible information.
The result was that the message surpassed through entire communities and customers became ambassadors of the message without even knowing the message in its entirety. The marketing team of the movie had a very loyal market segment on their side, they also had an irresistible message that created fans, but how did the market became so active and organized in spreading the word? How the movie did surpass the trap of sending inconsistent, inconsistent message, a message that could have been lost because of the hostile voice of the society against religious projects or the disloyalty, the disorientation of customers?
The marketing team adopted the third Law of an Epidemic: The Power of the Context. In order to motivate people to action they needed to create a favorable external environment and an organized system of message transmission. As a result, they modeled the context and maximized its potential: they created a healthy external controversy and interest towards the movie, the right buzz in the media so as Christians to have the external push to debate and make the movie known in their circle of acquaintances.
The fact that their most powerful religious message was debated by non-Christian arties infused them the courage and mood to talk about the movie. But the message, even with the right external push could not have been systematically transmitted without the spreading throughout organized communities. The fact that the market was formed by congregations as clusters of people already formed, homogeneous, active and inter-related gave the irresistible message the way to get from the key people wearing the virus to the whole market with an astonishing power and speed.