Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Far too many in entertainment share the misconception that the so-called “faith-based” audience is a niche market.

Sure, you can get enough folks together to make “God’s Not Dead,” “War Room,” “The Bible” and “Duck Dynasty” big hits, but that’s the limit. The “faith-based” audience is otherwise perceived as a small but uber-dedicated segment of aging, white, Chick-fil-A-eating, Southern evangelical churchgoers who look and talk like “The Simpsons”’ Ned Flanders. It’s a group, some believe, interested exclusively in low-budget, preachy, Bible-thumping films.

But a groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind study conducted by National Research Group for VidAngel, a hugely popular service that streams filtered content to families, reveals otherwise.

First, a little language lesson.

“Faith-based” mischaracterizes the audience. Their real motivator is values — entertainment that fundamentally speaks to the values they hold dear.

Are the members of the values audience people of faith? Of course, but “values” encompasses not just faith, but rather everything from “The Blind Side” to “The Pursuit of Happyness” to “The Peanuts Movie” — entertainment that tells inspiring, virtuous stories families can enjoy together.

The values audience is huge — 37 percent of the U.S. entertainment market. That’s slightly more than one in every three moviegoers. Are they white? Yes, but less so than the general U.S. population. In fact, this group is much more heavily African-American and Hispanic than the general population, and includes more Democrats (36 percent) than Republicans (33 percent).


Thirty-three percent are born-again Christians, 22 percent are Roman Catholic, 15 percent are mainline Protestants, 12 percent are evangelical Christians, 3 percent are Orthodox, 2 percent are Mormons, and 2 percent are Jewish. The values audience is more digitally savvy than most of the population, more likely to be parents than adults as a whole and more likely to prefer getting content from Amazon than from Netflix as compared to the general population.

The values audience looks like America — it’s young, diverse and, as a famous journalist said to me, “an extremely sophisticated consumer. They are dialed in and you can’t fool them; they know when you’re pandering.”

From their diversity, “E Pluribus Unum” applies in a uniquely American way. Members of the values audience are united by a single, powerful core driver: the desire for clean, wholesome content that, like the beloved sitcoms of the 1980s, teaches good lessons.

For this group, it’s not just about passing time, it’s also about reinforcing values and learning something.

Because the values audience is family-oriented, its members view entertainment as an opportunity to spend quality time together, spurring conversations that extend far beyond a film to the dining room table, the car, Little League games and, yes, Sunday discussions following a sermon.

Hollywood is missing the opportunity to make loads of money in failing to appeal to the values audience. Although it has produced values-oriented movies that were megahits, it has done so only sporadically.

The problem, ironically, is the industry’s fundamental lack of faith.

Fifty-two million customers are enough to carry any project — TV or movie — to success. Trust that the values audience will embrace values-oriented content, and you’ll see more success at the box office and beyond.

When new data like this reveals game-changing insights, savvy folks will want to change their approach. Here’s a few thoughts.

If you are a content creator, look for compelling, inspiring stories that can capture an audience’s imagination. Hollywood used to make movies like this all the time: “Chariots of Fire,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “Toy Story,” “Home Alone,” “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Rudy,” “Forrest Gump,” “Field of Dreams,” “Rocky” and “Horton Hears a Who?” are but a few examples. You could probably jot down 25 other such titles right off the top of your head. That’s the sweet spot. Tell a great story (and keep it clean, please), and you have a winner.

If you’re focused on marketing, find the right story first and then market as follows: Respect the audience’s intelligence. Create marketing campaigns that communicate clearly why viewers should care about the story and what the value proposition is. You don’t have to sell them with a bait and switch; they like their trailers straight up and honest.

There’s a massive opportunity for storytellers to share wonderful tales that make the world a better place. Oh, and here’s a dirty little secret for the financially minded: Clean sells.

Matthew Faraci is founder and president of Inspire Buzz, the only entertainment marketing agency exclusively specializing in delivering the values audience.

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