The movie, The Passion of The Christ, released in 2004, tells the story of the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ. Directed and produced by Mel Gibson, the film tells in Aramaic (believed to have been Jesus’ native language), Latin and Hebrew the moment of Christ’s arrest, trial and crucifixion.
To promote the film, Gibson did not rely on traditional advertising but instead used public relations (pre-screenings and publicity in the media) and grass-roots marketing techniques.
Gibson recognized that creating controversy was the key to building awareness of the film. He therefore invited prominent Christian and Jewish church leaders known for their political and social conservatism to watch the movie. An early version of the movie script was also leaked
When the movie was released, the reaction of Jewish community was negative as film blames the death of Jesus on the Jews as a group.
Through the pre-screening of the movie to church leaders and the leaking of the script, Gibson had created an enormous amount of media coverage focused on how incensed certain people were about the film and its message. This controversy in turn created so much buzz and word-of-mouth around the movie that it stimulated a core audience of Christian moviegoers, and also general moviegoers, into wanting to see the movie.
To further increase the controversy surrounding his movie, Gibson claimed that the late Pope John Paul II had seen the movie at a private viewing and remarked to his good friend, Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz that: ‘It was as it was.’ Dziwisz later denied that this ever happened, but it was widely reported by CNN and other news organizations that the Pope had said those words.
Finally, Gibson also undertook a grass-roots marketing effort through free tickets and discounted ticket prices to local church groups.