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'The Butler' got a box office lift with promotions targeting faith-based consumers

(August 25, 2013) Marketers have long been aware of the rewards to be reaped by tapping into the dollars of the black faith-based consumer market. The latest success story around this practice is the film, "Lee Daniel's The Butler," which just scored its second consecutive No.1 box office weekend. It debuted with $25 million in ticket sales, and followed that with $17 million the second weekend.

The film is a fictional account of Cecil Gaines, who served as White House Butler for eight Presidents between the 1950s and 1980s. The movie is based on the life of former executive butler, Eugene Allen as told in a Washington Post article written by Wil Haygood in 2008. Directed by Lee Daniels, the all-star cast includes Forrest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrance Howard,

Historically based films, even those with the advantage of a high-powered cast, have been hard sells at the box office. The Weinstein Co., distributors of the picture, used a variety of grassroots marketing methods to maximize the film's potential.

Church groups were a key component of the movie's early success, and their attendance was no happenstance. "While the biggest numbers came from the larger markets, proportionately the mid- and smaller-sized towns over-indexed,  which can be attributable to some extent to the outreach that we did to the faith-based groups," Erik Lomis, president of distribution for TWC, told the Hollywood Reporter. says.

The marketing team for TWC created a scripture guide and a trailer to appeal to faith-oriented audiences. The spiritual guide contained inspirational quotes from the cast, themes from the film with accompanying questions for reflection and relevant scripture passages.

The Weinstein Co. also worked with Bishop T.D. Jakes, founder and senior pastor of mega church The Potter's House of Dallas, who helped get the word out to faith-based communities.

The civil right movement is the context with which most of the film's narrative takes place, and TWC sought the involvement of black organizations associated with that era. The NAACP and the National Urban League lent their support by hosting screenings and encouraging members to see the film.

In additional to the tried-and-true efforts that have long been used for marketing reality-based black films, The Weinstein Co. added social media to its repertoire. It tapped into the vast network of LinkedIn, the career-oriented Website and its millions of members.

As part of the promotion, LinkedIn held a contest, called Path to Success, which offered a chance for three winners to scope out New York City and receive access to a recruiter, executive and career coach. Users entered using a LinkedIn API, which displayed their own career timelines, as well as that of Cecil Gaines.

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