On March 3rd, History Channel’s The Bible premiered to an impressive 14.1 million viewers. With the latest installment pulling in 11 million viewers, it’s clear that audience retention rates are just as remarkable. To put this into perspective, the premier beat the ratings for The Walking Dead and every episode has beaten Fox’s American Idol. If these numbers don’t impress you, they certainly confound Hollywood’s entertainment experts.
For industry executives, The Bible’s biblical-sized ratings are a sacred mystery. How can ratings be so high when there’s no mass audience for overtly religious mainstream programming?
Marketing Lessons to Meditate On
While the History Channel’s ratings for The Bible might have come as a surprise, it’s evident that they took advantage of a niche and exploited the opportunity. Indeed, this isn’t the first time that Hollywood has capitalized on Christian audiences, as 2004’s The Passion of the Christ raked in over $600 million to become the highest grossing R rated film in history.
Still, the History Channel’s marketing strategy should be viewed as commandments for those aiming for an audience of biblical proportions. These commandments include:
- Thou shalt plan wisely. It’s no coincidence that the final installment of the Bible doesn’t air until Easter. By taking advantage of the religious observances of Lent and Easter, the History Channel set itself up to be an entertainment hotspot for Christian audiences and anyone else interested in watching.
- Honor thy collaborations. If the celebrity names of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey weren’t involved, it’s certain that The Bible wouldn’t have received the attention it did. While not every marketing campaign such as those for small businesses can rely on celebrity power, there is strength in collaborations and B2B maneuvers.
- Thou shalt repurpose content. Obviously, The Bible is based on The Bible. By repurposing content from written word to visual work, the History Channel was able to create programming with a built in audience. While we all strive for original content, sometimes it’s important to repurpose content for specific needs.
- Remember the grassroots and reach out to them. The History Channel took advantage of the pulpit and targeted pastors, congregations, and Christian organizations in their marketing. By winning over the pulpit, they ignited a grassroots movement that did free advertising for them. For weeks before the premiere, pastors were encouraging their congregations to tune in and support the program. Have you taken advantage of grassroots marketing?
- Thou shalt not spend needlessly. With their marketing plan in place, the History Channel didn’t need to budget as aggressively as similar programs have – yet they pulled in substantially bigger ratings. Furthermore, the series cost $22 million to produce versus HBO’s $200 million for The Pacific. In short, because of careful planning and budgeting, the History Channel spent 1/10th of HBO’s budget but received 4 times the ratings. Likewise, if you plan smartly, you can save money that your competitors will waste.
- Thou shalt seek advice. Don’t be afraid to seek advice during your marketing campaign. The Bible had over 40 advisers and consultants during the filming and marketing plan of the project.
- Thou shalt take advantage of what people know. Whether or not people are Christian or religious, chances are they’ve heard these Bible stories. The History Channel used that to their advantage – research shows us that people respond to what they know. Whether it’s nostalgic marketing or trying to relate to a common theme, people respond to marketing they can relate to.
- Thou shalt build anticipation. Mark Burnett previewed a portion of The Bible to a Christian audience that included famous pastors and leaders. This helped build hype for the premier.
- Thou shalt make it cool. Producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey said that they wanted to make a program that their teenage children would want to watch. By showcasing ancient texts through modern entertainment, the producers were able to sustain a large audience. Likewise, keep your marketing efforts up with the times. Avoid trendjacking or newsjacking stories that are at the end of their cycle. Always be on the forefront.
- Though shalt capitalize. Now that The Bible is halfway through its run, the History Channel shows no sign of slowing their marketing efforts. If anything, they’re ramping up for the grand finale on Easter. By capitalizing on the success they’ve experienced, they’re able to easily expand their reach.
Have you been following these commandments for your marketing strategy? Do you have any tips to add below in the comments section?