Marketing ‘Blind Side’: Strategically Preaching To the Faithful

With The Blind Side rushing past New Moon at the box office last weekend, AdAge takes a look at the faith-based marketing strategy behind the Sandra Bullock football film.

The trade has a Q&A with Grace Hill Media’s Jonathan Bock who shares his outreach program for the vampire averse.

The strategy employed has been stealth as Warner Bros. and Blind Side‘s production partners at Alcon Entertainment have been quietly reaching out to the Christian community via their work with Grace Hill, a movie-marketing firm geared toward the churchgoing crowd.

Bock is a Warner Bros. publicity veteran who worked on Christian-friendly films such as The Green Mile and My Dog Skip. Grace Hill has helped market some 285 movies to the Christian circuit since 2000 through its database of 155,000 ministry professionals and more than 1 million consumers, AdAge says.

For Blind Side, more than 20,000 churches have downloaded clips about the film’s real-life story of a homeless African-American youth who was adopted by a Tennessee mother and played high-school football in Memphis before he was eventually picked to play for the NFL by the Baltimore Ravens.

Those downloads, plus an average congregation size of 400 people, means exposure to 8 million of the people most likely to see the film.

On quantifying the churchgoing audience’s relative size for studios, Bock explains: “[On] any given weekend, you’re looking at about 43% of the country in church, while those who are showing up once a month is basically two-thirds. And if you’re talking to two-thirds of the country, you’re going to get a pretty huge spectrum of people and the kind of movies they like.”

While Bock abstains from “buying advertising in church bulletins,” he allows, “If a pastor feels comfortable using something from a movie, if it ties in with something he’s doing in church, then that’s terrific.”

Bock adds, “I don’t know if you’ve seen a contemporary church service lately, but they’re pretty big, modern places with lots of TV screens — definitely not your grandfather’s church with an organ. So if you’re a pastor and you just paid $35,000 for a massive high-tech screen, you don’t just want to screen out the lyrics to ‘Our God Is an Awesome God.’ In the last four years, websites have started cropping up specifically for pastors where they can go and download and look for clips they can use as sermon illustrations, instead of using something like some story they either made up or had about their own life.”

Bock, a lifelong Presbyterian who attends the Bel Air Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, further adds, “Like any sort of niche marketing, it really requires, to some degree, a familiarity with and respect of the audience you’re trying to market to. And just like I can’t imagine people involved in sports marketing don’t like sports, you got to be able to talk that talk. If you don’t, people see through that in two seconds.”