LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- When it comes to multicultural media, Christians and evangelicals remain one of the last "niche" consumers for major brand marketers to reach on a dedicated basis. But as Warner Bros. and Grace Hill recently proved with the surprise box-office success of "The Blind Side," targeting the audience directly can yield big results.
Gospel Music Channel, an independent cable network in 50 million homes, is hoping to become a destination for those media-savvy faith-based consumers through a new strategic partnership with Tangle.com, a social-networking site for Christians formerly known as GodTube. Gospel Music Channel will handle all ad sales, marketing and promotional efforts for the site, as well as synchronize GMC's extensive library of contemporary Christian music videos and concert specials with Tangle's equally expansive user-generated scripture readings and re-enactments, family-friendly humor and other faith-based content.
Expanding beyond music
Philip Manwaring, Gospel Music Channel's VP-digital media, said the Tangle partnership allows the network to expand what content it offers beyond only music when it's courting advertisers as well as the hundreds of thousands of ministry professionals who subscribe to its newsletters for church-related content. Currently, Gospel Music Channel's website and other online properties touch about 250,000 ministry professionals a month, spanning 100,000 churches with music and other content available for purchase and download that pastors can use during sermons and other ministry services. Tangle brings with it an additional 2.5 million unique users a month who interact with more than GMC's core music content.
"A lot of marketing in this space is done through the church itself, and Tangle brings millions of general Christian consumers into that mix. It allows us to target anywhere within that spectrum that's becoming relevant to that audience," Mr. Manwaring said.
And that audience is becoming increasingly relevant to marketers. Group M's media-buying agency Mindshare recently conducted a deep dive into the faith-based consumer market through a 2008 research study titled "Project Faith," which set out to quantify evangelical consumers' media habits, average household income and affinity for certain brands. The research could be deemed particularly useful to some of Mindshare's biggest clients, such as Unilever, whose products have a predominantly faith-based consumer base even if the brands' marketers don't target them specifically.
Ken Harbarta, director-consumer insights at Mindshare, said a Catch-22 comes with marketing to the religious circuit.
"The last thing most brands want is to be perceived with a big crucifix around their neck," he said. "The safe route is the values-based route, associating yourself with a certain way of life rather than any particular faith or denomination."
The faith-based bandwagon
Two Mindshare clients have executed faith-based campaigns this year based on findings from the "Project Faith" study, although Mr. Harbata declined to identify the brands as the campaigns are still being monitored for results. Elsewhere, brands such as Ford, Chrysler, Procter & Gamble's Tide and others have jumped aboard the faith-based bandwagon by sponsoring gospel-themed content on GMC, the Word Network and BET's Sunday-morning programming lineup and gospel-music reality series "Sunday Best."
Verizon Wireless has also upped its outreach in recent years, partnering with GMC for the last couple years on a church choir contest called "How Sweet the Sound." Said Mr. Manwaring of the promotion: "They've been able to simultaneously reach out to congregations and the general consumers who can say, 'Wow, Verizon is buying into those opportunities and the things that are really important to us and our lifestyle.'"
At Mindshare, the agency is currently working on a follow-up to "Project Faith" that will attempt to quantify evangelicals' purchasing power and brand loyalty. One of the first myths the agency has already been able to dispel is the notion that Christians are averse to direct marketing.
"What we found is they totally welcome it with open arms, they just want a bigger platform to get their message out," Mr. Harbata said. "They need a platform to show they're changing, evolving or growing. It's such a controversial topic because there's the fear of being perceived as religiously targeting people, but they're just going after culture in another guise. That's what marketers have been doing for ages, and we'll soon start to see more brands getting into this neck of the woods."