Like most of the industry, I was astonished with the March 21st opening of a small film entitled “God’s Not Dead”. And then the second week came and the drop off was positively Lilliputian, especially considering most films in the faith based genre suffer 60%+ drops in their second weekend. To top it all off, the film has just reached $40 million at the box office. How did this happen???
Well, in this week’s edition of In The Spotlight we have a fascinating talk with Ash Greyson, President and CEO of Ribbow Media. Ash’s resume includes work with clients such as Cablevision, Freemantle Media, Syfy Channel and The Hallmark Channel, to name a few. More importantly, he was an important part of the team that was the driving marketing force behind “God’s Not Dead”. In this interview he and I talk about the keys to his and the film’s success, the state of faith based films in the U.S. and future projects.
BOX OFFICE INSIDER First off, congratulations on the phenomenal success of “God’s Not Dead”. Obviously this is a special movie and you primarily have to reach a distinct but fervent audience. Touch on how far out you and your team were hired by Pure Flix.
ASH GREYSON We were hired in August of 2013 after initial discussions with Working Title Agency who headed up the marketing for the film. They already had many of the pieces in place. Icon Media Group for PR, Lifeway for church engagement, Cachet Entertainment for group ticket sales and Renaissance Communications to do Christian radio as well as many others. It was the super team of faith film marketers. Pure Fix put a strong emphasis on the social/digital side and we were lucky enough to get a seat at the big boy table
BOI What other faith based films have you and your team worked on?
AG We’ve worked in some capacity on many of them, from a small Facebook only engagement of “Son of God” to a little indie film called “Not Today” and “The Christmas Candle”. The only movie to engage us as deeply as “God’s Not Dead” was “2016: Obama’s America”. Both of those projects saw the social/digital space as a huge driver for success, not just a place where earned media gets reflected. We are super excited to be working with a groundbreaking film in the genre. “Mom’s Night Out” (Sony 5/9), that is a faith friendly comedy with wide appeal well beyond the choir we generally market to. After that we have a movie titled “Persecuted” coming this summer which has exceptionally high production values and feels more like a political thriller than a traditional faith based film
BOI Obviously a studio can’t just throw anything out to a Christian audience and expect them to show up, no matter how exceptional the marketing campaign is. How does that audience know the quality of the film beforehand?
AG At the core, this audience wants to TRUST a film. Yes, they want it to be quality but their definition of quality is am much about “does this fit my world view and does it make me feel something?” as much as anything else. That said, the bar is getting higher and higher for the quality of these films.
BOI What did you do that was “new” on this film?
AG We used more data than we ever have used on any project. We identified, fairly early, over 1 million people by name that we thought would come to this movie. We developed a list of super-sharers and went after them hard back in September. We got the Facebook page to 119,000 people before we put out the original viral teaser in October. In 48 hours it was shared over 650,000 times and we were off and running. Also, this was the first time a studio has let us do the digital ad buy. We had a concept and a plan that we presented to Working Title and Pure Fix. It basically threw out all the traditional thinking on how to do an ad buy. The idea was, how can we eliminate as much waste as possible and get directly to the consumer who will buy a ticket and come to this movie? That should not be disruptive thinking but it is. We overlaid, when possible, likely moviegoer data on all our advertising. We changed how the vendors sent emails. We bought only disruptive units, shunned the idea that impressions mean anything and focused on getting to the RIGHT people instead of the MOST people. We also measured every vendor and assigned a value to their audience. We are trying to assess what an impression/click from Vendor A means in relation to an impression/click from Vendor B.
BOI How important is casting in films such as “God’s Not Dead”?
AG It’s imperative. The actors must be trusted and they must be marketable. Pure Flix deserves an immense amount of credit for the cast they put together. It was a dream as a marketer and it was all their idea. It’s honestly the most genius cast I’ve ever seen on a project of this scope. They had a cast that the church marketing team could leverage as well as a cast that was a digital gold mine. I remember the reaction from my team when we got the project…Hercules (Kevin Sorbo), Superman (Dean Cain), Duck Dynasty (Willie & Korrie Robertson) and Disney (Shane Harper). We are going to crush this!”
BOI Obviously social media is a big component of what you were able to accomplish. Where do you see that going in the future?
AG To be honest, I feel like we are at a 3.5 out of 10 in what we can do on the digital/social side. You have to have teams of smart people to market movies but I think digital is going to be the new engine for marketing movies. We still need seats in the car and someone to keep the wheels on though. If you look at what’s happening right now with Wes Anderson and his film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, I think that is going to be the new model and digital can drive that. I see a future, a not so distant future, where big data and data modeling help determine where to put movies, how to make movies, how to cast movies and even how much you can spend making them. Look at what the Obama campaign was able to do with data.
BOI What’s next for you and Ribbow Media?
AG We are expanding but want to stay small and have a huge impact. We are going to develop some of our systems and processes. We have one film we are getting in on at the script stage and want to build marketing and big data into the DNA of the project. We think it has massive potential and could do 100+ million at the box office. Think “Moneyball” for the movies, that’s where we are headed.
BOI Thanks so much for your time Ash, and congratulations again to you and your team on the phenomenal success of “God’s Not Dead”.