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Hollywood Finds An Audience With The Church

Hollywood studios have long been making films that try to reach to the “family” marketplace, but outside of plastering pictures of lovable characters on disposable fast food cups and placing banner ads on Ebay, they’ve yet to market successfully to the average churchgoer.

And that’s quite a large audience they’re missing. According to researcher George Barna, nearly half the population of the United States attends a church or synagogue on a regular basis. The question has always been how to mobilize this burgeoning marketplace and create the buzz and word-of-mouth advertising that’s necessary to make a project a success.

Tim Abare of OnCore Group, a specialized organization that acts as a grassroots liaison between Hollywood and the Church, sees it all as a question of language. “The problem is that major studios don’t really speak the language of the churchgoing public,” Abare said. “They want to get word-of-mouth going, but they don’t know what to tell people to get them to start talking.”

Enter the grassroots marketing movement. More and more studios are turning to companies like OnCore to get the word out about their projects and instigate that all-important buzz in the religious community, where word-of-mouth carries more weight than in secular circles.

And the idea seems to be working. Paxson Communications, masterminds behind the church-friendly PAX television network, recently utilized OnCore for a grassroots strategy for the May sweeps period, mobilizing the 4,000 largest churches in the U.S. to distribute 4 million promotional pieces to boost ratings.

The success of grassroots marketing within the Church has become so notable that even studio heavyweights like Columbia/Tri-Star and 20
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Century Fox are utilizing the tactic. Both have worked with OnCore, with Fox employing their grassroots approach to ensure success for their upcoming Frank Peretti-authored film Hangman’s Curse.

“We have over 300,000 churches in our database, and we communicate with 75,000 of those at least five times a year,” Abare explained. “Those kinds of numbers are difficult for Hollywood to ignore. They see those relationships and realize there’s something to this.”

A former youth pastor and current marketing sage, Abare has a 15-year history of promoting things to the Church, a call he and his large staff are passionate about. In his mind, if the churchgoing public begins to support the types of projects aimed at them, studios will begin to offer more family-friendly programming at home and on the big screen.

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“People say they want good quality family entertainment,” Abare said, “but when Hollywood releases a movie along those lines, people don’t go see it.” Why? He thinks it’s because the target audience doesn’t know about it. And the best way to get them the knowledge they want is through the filtered, connective method of companies like his.

“The bottom line is this,” he said, “Hollywood doesn’t understand Christianese, so if they’re going to speak to the inspirational market, or churchgoers, they need a translator.”

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