E-Mail Answers Firm's Prayers on 'Passion' DVD

With the buzz surrounding “The Passion of the Christ” reaching a fever pitch, MPI Home Video scrambled to produce and market a DVD of Mel Gibson's Feb. 16 “Primetime Live” interview in advance of the movie's Feb. 25 release.

The Orland Park, IL, company realized e-mail was the only marketing channel it could use with such a short turnaround time. It contacted Jaffer Ali, founder and chief strategic officer at Penn Media, Mokena, IL. A deal was reached Feb. 20 to place an ad in 50 e-mail newsletters dealing with Christian and inspirational topics. The newsletters were sent last week to 5.3 million subscribers.

“They contacted me on a Friday [Feb. 20] after they made [a licensing deal with ABC] that week,” said Ali, whose firm owns four of the 50 newsletters accounting for 500,000 subscribers. “They said, 'I know you have e-mail newsletters reaching millions of people. We want to make the announcement before Ash Wednesday.' I said, 'That's not much time.' But since many of these e-mail publications are daily, I said I could do it.”

Penn Media began trafficking ads to all 50 newsletters Feb. 20, Ali said.

MPI wanted to target people who not only identify themselves as Christians, but who also would subscribe to what Ali described as double-opt-in inspirational, religious and Christian-themed e-mail newsletters. Those titles include “Bible Verses & Trivia,” “Angel Voice,” “Your Bible Today” and “Inspirational Voice.”

Ali described the target audience as 55 percent female with average annual incomes exceeding $45,000. The DVD is priced at $19.99.

“I also asked them if they wanted us to take the orders online, and they said that would be even better,” he said.

Enter PulseTV.com, Penn Media's e-commerce division. A link to pulsetv.com was placed at the end of the ad. Those who click on the link go to a page with three images of Gibson from the interview with Diane Sawyer along with the following copy: “Gibson explains his personal religious beliefs to Sawyer and how his faith helped him overcome struggles with addiction and other personal problems — ultimately inspiring him to make 'The Passion of the Christ.'”

Upsells on the page included a U.S. flag for $2.99; “The Gift of Jabez — The Power of Practical Prayer” video for $19.98; a laser pointer for $1.99; and a free CD-ROM Bible. Ali said generally 20 percent of those who respond to an ad in the newsletters his company manages will buy additional items.

The DVD ships March 8, the day it is set to be available in retail stores.

“They were rush releasing the DVD, and one of the only ways they could get the word out to millions of people so quickly was to do it via e-mail,” Ali said.

Ali said MPI expects to sell 100,000 DVDs at retail with the e-mail effort accounting for 10 percent of those sales. His high-end projection is for 500 sales through PulseTV. As of Feb. 26, 250 were sold via PulseTV.

The cost to MPI was $11.47 per 1,000 impressions, as there was no frequency break and because it was a rush.

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