DM Efforts Prove 'Left Behind's' Salvation

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When Cloud Ten Pictures' apocalyptic movie "Left Behind" went unheeded in Hollywood, the Christian film studio used telemarketing to spread the good word about the film's theatrical release and direct mail to back its home video debut.


Cloud Ten, Niagara Falls, Ontario, hired outsourcing firm Mountaintop Media, Sparta, NJ, to contact church pastors across the United States. Agents asked them to tell their congregations about the movie, which is based on the best-selling "Left Behind" series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.


Pastors were offered discount cinema coupons to distribute to their church members. Of the 33,000 pastors contacted, 32,000 accepted the coupons and said they would tell congregations to support the movie.


Telemarketing for the film began the first week of January, a month before its Feb. 2 release. "Left Behind" generated $2.2 million on its opening weekend and has grossed more than $4 million total.


The studio owners thought telemarketing would get favorable results in a short time, said Kara Hale, marketing manager with Cloud Ten. They used telemarketing to stir interest in "Left Behind" and depended on word of mouth to do the rest.


Cloud Ten believed its movie, which portrays the end of human history based on the New Testament Book of Revelation, would be a tough sell in the secular market but would resonate within the Christian community.


"We have a niche market," Hale said. "We know who wants our products."


Lacking funds for widespread national broadcast advertising, Cloud Ten has looked to direct marketing as a cost-effective way to spur sales for the past several years. With "Left Behind," the home VHS and DVD versions were released in Christian bookstores Oct. 31 - well in advance of the theatrical release - and were backed by a direct mail campaign.


Last July, Cloud Ten mailed postcards to 10,000 bookstores in its in-house database announcing of the release of "The Making of Left Behind," which retailed for $9.99. Cloud Ten developed its database from a list of members of the Christian Bookstore Association and conference attendees.


Fifteen days after the first mailing, a second postcard was sent to the same bookstores announcing the impending release of the "Left Behind" video, available for $29.95 for DVD and VHS.


On Oct. 15, prior to the video release, Cloud Ten mailed its list of 10,000 bookstores again, this time with a promotional package in the shape of a film canister. The package, which cost $2.25 a piece, contained a video with a sales pitch for the movie that bookstores could play for customers.


The idea of selling the "making of" video was to spark interest in the finished version of "Left Behind" before its release. The thinking behind releasing the video before the movie - a reverse of the usual progression - was that fans of the book would see the video and then want to see it on the big screen.


In addition, the theatrical release spurred an increase in video sales. Wal-Mart, one of the major retail carriers of the video, reported a 160 percent rise in video sales shortly after the theatrical debut.


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