Son of God, a highly-anticipated “Christian” movie, hit theaters over the weekend. Fortunately for viewers, it stars neither Kirk Cameron nor Stephen Baldwin. It’s also free of Mel Gibson’s baggage, like racial slurs and domestic abuse.
Will this be enough to make Son of God a box office hit? Time will tell. For now, let’s look at what producer Mark Burnett is doing right when it comes to marketing…
7 Marketing Lessons from Son of God – The Movie
1. Take Chances – As the owner of the YMCA, you’d expect Jesus to be in great shape, but there is a fine line between “great shape” and “too sexy for Christians.” Son of God took a chance on this and upped Jesus’ hotness to a 10!
Shirtless men with six-pack abs make lesser men feel uncomfortable. So it’s understandable that some people are pissed.
Like this guy…
But women like a dude with great abs, even if, like a hot gay friend, you’re not supposed to think of him in a sexual way. And for every jealous guy that Son of God will lose because of this, there will be at least two women who watch for the very same reason.
Which is also disturbing to some people, but hilarious to others…
The big idea here is to do something different. Non-sexy Jesus has been done before. Bloody and violent crucifixions have been done before. So why not take a punt and make him sexy?
Stop copying and start innovating.
With that said…
2. Start with a Proven Product – Jesus is a proven product. Hot Portuguese guys are a proven product. “Family” films are a proven product. All three of them together just might work…
Start with something you know works and build upon it.
There is no reason to reinvent the wheel — at the very least, like Son of God, build upon proven elements.
3. Have a Built-In Audience – Christians are a perfect audience for a product — they’re passionate, they’re easy to find, and they gather in groups. And what better than a product that tells the story of the guy they worship in a very positive way?
Son of God isn’t for everybody. “Hot Jesus” may bring in a few people out of curiosity, but the film was made for a hardcore Christian audience who are already fans by fellow Christians who are trusted by that audience.
All of us come with a built-in audience. Don’t ignore them.
4. Repurpose Earlier Work – Before it was released as a movie called Son of God the content was used for a television series on History Channel called The Bible. Son of God is simply a re-edit of footage that already existed.
I tell musicians whom I work with “if it’s worth performing, it’s worth recording.” You never know when something you do will be valuable to release as a different product. Beyond that, you likely already have existing work that can be repurposed.
- blog posts can be turned into a book
- a book can be turned into a multi-day seminar
- a seminar can be turned into a replicated product, such as a Nightigale-style home study course
5. Befriend Tastemakers – A big advantage that faith-based films have over traditional films is the numbers of approachable tastemakers. For a Christian film like Son of God, every Christian celebrity is a potential marketer, because every Christian celebrity believes in the basic message of the film.
Rick Warren of Saddleback Church has 1,300,000 Twitter followers. Radio host Dave Ramsey is heard on over 500 stations and has 4,500,000 listeners each week. Family Christian Stores has 281 locations.
Authorities like this can reach a lot of people in a way that is much more effective than traditional advertising.
Beyond this, every church leader is a potential marketer. For this purpose, there is the Son of God Church Kit.
Son Of God Church Kit
Take your church on a powerful 4-week journey to learn more about the life and death of Jesus. Based on the movie Son of God and designed as a 4-week sermon series, the Son of God church kit uses a combination of scripture and video clips to show the scarlet thread of God’s redemption through Jesus Christ. The Church Kit includes:
- Four sermons and coordinated video clips.
- Campaign Planning Guide
- Social Media Graphics & digital media guide
- Sample Invitation Tools
- Outreach Booklet
- Movie Night Planning Guide
- DVD-based Small Group Study Kit
This is PERFECT marketing as it makes the film the center of everything while helping the person doing the work by bringing more people to his church.
And it’s easy to do… Every film, book, or philosophy has the potential for a “study guide” option.
6. Sell in Bulk – Bulk sales are how Christian films, books, and other media go big…
Crossroads Church in Cincinnati organized a “theater takeover” that brought in thousands of people to a 13-screen multiplex to watch Son of God at the same time. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church organized showings in eight different theaters. Joel Osteen distributed 8000 tickets for opening weekend.
But what if you’re not Christian? If you have a philosophy, you can still do this.
There are several examples of similar promotions in non-Christian philosophy-based media. In 2005, Neale Donald Walsch released a film called Indigo: A Film Of Faith, Family & An Extraordinary Child which, although it didn’t have Son of God’s distribution to major theaters, was marketed in a similar way using screenings in hotel conference areas, community centers, and private residences.
An example of a less flashy, but ongoing promotion that sells media in bulk is Spiritual Cinema Circle, which sends subscribers four “inspirational” and “heartwarming” films each month.
7. Have an Enemy – Howard Stern wouldn’t be where he is without the FCC. Hulk Hogan wouldn’t be where he is without The Iron Sheik.
Having an enemy rallies the troops and gets them more excited about what you’re doing. And Christian-based films are no exception to this…
There’s an underlying tone in the marketing behind Son of God that, when you purchase a ticket, you’re making a statement. You’re taking a stand against “liberal Hollywood” and helping to bring Christian values and family entertainment back into mainstream culture.
Enemies are powerful marketing tools. Remember, the entire Christian religion is based on this.
Who’s your enemy?
Church marketing is fascinating to watch and almost everything that churches are doing to spread their messages and grow their audiences can be applied to a non-faith business or community. If you want to go deeper on this subject, I highly recommend The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission by Rick Warren.
ABOUT THIS SERIES: Every Monday, I analyze the good, bad, and ugly about the marketing behind a common business or famous personality. See other posts in this series here and, if you have a request for something (or someone) you’d like me to analyze for this series, contact me via Twitter.