Subtitle: What the Avengers can Teach Churches about Marketing
Ok, full disclosure…I’m a comic book geek. I know Captain America and Iron Man from when they shared Tales of Suspense and I still yell out “There’s Stan Lee!” when I see the Marvel Mogul in any TV show or movie. I admit to my geekiness but it wasn’t just comic book nerds that went to this opening weekend. What marketing lessons can church leaders learn from the box-office frenzy that is Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron at the box office?
As you can imagine, Marvel (an LLC owned by Disney since 2009) is a marketing machine. Marvel rose above its comic book competitors with superior marketing before being acquired by Disney. Now with Disney, one of the greatest marketing companies in the world, behind the Marvel characters they no longer just target only hard-core comic geeks. No, their target is world domination (cue evil villain laugh Mwuhahahahaa!) Ok, I promised marketing lessons for churches.
Let’s look at the way Marvel marketed this Avengers sequel as part of their BIG-picture plan to market all their films…and look at how we can apply these techniques to church marketing.
1. Marvel got “non-comic geeks” excited about these movies.
My wife and daughters are not comic fans but they are as excited about this movie as I am. Moviegoers don’t have to be comic readers to enjoy Marvel movies. Their story lines we beautifully lifted from classic comic book moments but if you didn’t know that, the stories are easily understood and explained. Bottom line, you don’t have to be a comic book insider to enjoy!
If you look at the trailers, posters and other marketing pieces, you almost forget The Avengers are from a comic book. Marvel is advertizing a movie to any moviegoer who enjoys Action/Adventure pictures. That is a key for churches when marketing, target the general public in your area, not just church people.
Marvel Marketing Tip #1: Create Marketing for People Who Are Not Already Fans
2. Marvel put the right people in the right roles.
One reason for this movie’s wide audience is the quality of actors cast. There is star power in the leading roles, Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Chris Evans (Captain America) etc. etc. That is expected in a blockbuster movie.
What is more amazing is the Academy Award quality in minor or supporting roles: Gweneth Paltrow (Iron Man’s assistant/girlfriend), Anthony Hopkins (Odin: Thor’s Dad), Natalie Portman (Thor’s girlfriend), and Samuel Jackson (Nick Fury).
Marvel Marketing Tip #2: Create Roles for People To Widen Appeal
When possible, leverage star power. The impact a quote from a local celebrity or a 15 second spot from a well-known guest speaker will draw people who would never be interested other wise. A testimony service from heavy metal legend Brian ‘Head’ Welch of Korn remains one of our churches biggest days.
Last thought on this…marketing doesn’t end at the front door, put quality people in support roles such as usher or café server to ensure people get a quality experience.
Beyond the celebrity drawing power, people must identify with your people. Ask some questions about whom you’ve ‘cast’ to represent your church. Is everyone in your marketing material a nicely dressed, thin, white, 30-something? Does your church look like that? More importantly does your city look like that? This isn’t about celebrity as much as having ‘characters’ people can identify with.
For example: Iron man is a flawed man. He has pride, daddy issues, a complicated relationship with his love interest, health concerns, and trouble getting along with others. To target real people, use people they identify with in marketing images and issues people identify with as topics.
3. Every movie has teasers about the next one.
One of my favorite things to do with my youngest daughter is to hang around the theater after the movie ends to wait for the teaser at the ending credits! This gets us thinking (and talking) about the next Marvel movie!
For example, two of the characters in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, were revealed in a post-credits scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier two years ago! I remember explaining to my family who they were including that Magneto from the X-men franchise was their father.
There are some teasers during the films themselves also. In Iron Man 2, Agent Coulson hands Iron Man a half-constructed shield that would later become Captain America’s shield alluding to an upcoming Cap film.
Marvel Marketing Tip #3: Find creative ways to give information about upcoming services or events.
When I send out a mailer advertizing a special service, I try to have a ‘bounce-back’ event included, like a guest speaker. An example of this was Brian ‘Head’ Welch, mentioned earlier, was a January event advertized on our Christmas mailer. We also made it a big deal during the Christmas services to say ‘mark your calendars’ and to show a 30 second teaser commercial. It can be as simple as announcing your new comers gathering on Easter. Leaking info about an upcoming event is a great way to get them to come back and Marvel knows it.
4. Marvel Merchandises EVERYTHING.
Marvel will make millions at the box office, but they will also make millions more from merchandise affiliated with the Avengers. There are action figures, toys, video games, posters, collectables, lunch boxes, clothing, and partnership deals with places like Subway. This is an area where Marvel has always outshined their comic book competitors but now that Disney, the best in the world at affiliated merchandizing, owns them, you see Marvel products EVERYWHERE.
Marvel realizes that the residual money from this kind of marketing can outsell even the biggest blockbuster’s ticket sales. What does this mean to churches? We aren’t merchandising products to get more money.
Marvel Marketing Tip #4: Use merchandizing to keep your church in people’s minds.
A pen with your churches name and website will be found in a purse a month later. A free mug is a reminder to get back to church with their morning coffee. A T-shirt can be a conversation starter for a long-time member who is shy about sharing their faith.
5. Marvel Announces release dates way in advance.
Marvel has told us there are at least two more Avengers films, a two-part series called Infinity War, (They revealed the villain Thanos in one if those teasers). The next Avengers releases in 2018 (yes, 3 years from now), with the second part coming in 2019. Leading up to these films, Marvel has: Captain America: Civil War in 2016, with Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Thor: Ragnarok both in 2017. People are talking about them now because Marvel announces dates well ahead of time.
Marvel Marketing Tip #5: Get important dates into people’s hands early, and in writing.
Don’t assume people know the dates or times! Ok, we may know that Christmas is December 25th each year but what time is the Christmas Eve service? Easter? Forget about it, they move the date every year! In your announcements, mailers, TV commercials, newspaper ads…PLEASE put the dates and times on them. The most effective marketing I’ve done is to hand out invite cards to our people with the dates and times to give to friends.
A big opportunity churches miss is to have a countdown. Marvel is great at saying “Three days until the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes hit the screen near you.” Count down to your big days on your website or in your marketing. A mailer that says “Easter is less than two weeks away” grabs attention better than “This Easter come to Church XYZ”.
In closing, when we are looking at marketing churches we should look at companies that understand how to put butts in the seats. Marvel is certainly good at that. I hope these ‘marvelous’ tips (I couldn’t resist.) will help us all market more effectively to grow our churches and ultimately touch more lives for Christ.