Movie Marketing Madness: Moneyball

Growing up a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan I have a…skewed perspective on baseball. My formative years (read: up until the age of 34) were during the ownership of the club by Tribune Co., meaning if I had a nickel for every conversation that included the phrase “…well they’re making plenty of money even by losing so they don’t *have* to spend more to field a winning team…” I’d no longer need to work but would be sitting on a beach earning 20 percent. My reality is and has always been being a live or die fan of a club that has one of the top five payrolls in the major leagues and only avoids the basement most years only for the grace of, in this year’s case, the Houston Astros.

The size of a payroll, though, doesn’t always automatically correspond to a winning team. A half dozen years ago author Michael Lewis made that point when he wrote a book that’s now the subject of the new movie Moneyball. The book told the story of Billy Beane (portrayed here by Brad Pitt) and his efforts to field a winning team for the Oakland A’s with a budget that hovered somewhere below the bottom of the major leagues. To do that he shook up the organization by trying to move it away from the hunches and instincts that dominated player recruitment and instead focus on statistics and percentages. He’s aided by Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) and the two set off to turn coal into diamonds.

The Posters

The first poster certainly defines the movie’s setting and the central conflict of the story. Pitt stands all alone in the outfield of an empty baseball field, the grass nicely mowed and all that. So we get that it’s a story about baseball and that Bean is feeling all alone in what he’s trying to do. It’s simple, it’s slick and works pretty well.

The next poster also featured Pitt solo, this time sitting in the box seats of a baseball field and looking back over his shoulder towards – but not at – the camera. Again, we get the clear message that this is a baseball movie and that Pitt’s character is sort of out on his own in some way. I can’t say it’s exceptionally original or anything but it does continue to convey a slickness about the movie and is notable at least for the lack of Photoshop hackery that is unfortunately on too many one-sheets. So it works.

The Trailers

The first trailer for the movie was remarkably well put together. We meet Pitt’s Beane as he’s hitting brick walls with the Oakland A’s as he attempts to take almost no money and buy a contending team. He’s frustrated by scouts and intuition and all that until he meets Hill’s Brand, who convinces him that by looking at statistics and filling specific needs they can field a winning club. But the trailer shows things aren’t exactly a smooth ride as Beane’s efforts upset a lot of established apple carts and honk off a lot of people who have vested interests in maintaining the way things have always been done, at least until things start to turn around.

Let’s just be honest and admit that part of the reason (the other is the music that swells at all the right moments) is the charm of Pitt, who glides through his scenes with a cocky sureness and who spouts the snappy dialogue (a rewrite of the script was done by Aaron Sorkin) with ease. Again, this works extremely well and takes what was by all accounts a pretty dry, if very influential book and turns it into a compelling film drama.

A second trailer wasn’t all that much different from the first. A few different scenes here and there, particularly of the insiders whose apple carts Bean is upsetting, but other than that it was basically the same thing we saw before.

Online

The movie’s official website opens by presenting a wall full of pictures from the movie, some of which take you into various content areas and some of which just open up production stills. First, though, let’s work down the menu that’s off to the left of the screen.

First up is “Cast & Filmmakers”, which nicely carries over the design theme from the main page. Unfortunately all you get when you mouse over one of the cast’s photos is the name of the person they play, with no other information available.

“Videos” has just the Trailer and a TV Spot. There are about two dozen stills in the “Gallery” and “Downloads” has five Wallpapers and a Twitter Skin for you to grab. The “Soundtrack” site lets you preview the film’s score.

“Play the Game” pits your decision making abilities against those of Beane (hypothetically or not I’m not sure) by presenting you with a series of choices to make where you have to weigh a series of factors to make the best and most efficient decision.

The movie’s Facebook page opens with some video options to choose from, ranging from the trailer to various TV spots. There are also photos and such, including lots of updates to the Wall that point to and mention press coverage.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV commercials started running surprisingly early and touched on the same points as the first trailer, with Pitt’s character being told that he can’t have more money and has to do with what he has, then turning to a stats wizard to help him turn things around. It works on the same level as the trailer as well and makes a good case for the movie as a populist drama more than a wonky discussion of statistics.

Spots that featured longer running times – up to two minutes in some cases – ran on MLB Network (Los Angeles Times, 7/28/11) in an effort to reach the older guys who watched that channel and present something almost on par with the theatrical trailer to help motivate them to actually make a trip to the movie theater.

Media and Publicity

After so much news about pre-production and who would or wouldn’t be directing, the first bit of publicity about the finished movie came when the first trailer was teased on “Entertainment Tonight” just before it was released.

The film was then announced (Los Angeles Times, 7/26/11) as one of those appearing at the Toronto Film Festival, where the story (for some unknown reason) was on how it managed to appeal to women without there being a major female role (LAT, 9/10/11). I’m not sure how the answer to that isn’t “It stars a charming Brad Pitt” but whatever.

Being a Pitt movie there was plenty of other coverage from publications as diverse as Entertainment Weekly to Sports Illustrated that let him talk about his love of baseball and other topics.

Overall

The campaign is slick and professionally done, the same impression that’s given of the movie that it’s trying to sell. Everything about it is slick and done very well and charming, something that is helped largely by Pitt, who appears to glide through his performance with a layer of Teflon. The trailer sells good chemistry between him and Hill, nice interactions with him and his daughter and more. It’s all packaged as an entertaining drama that has lighthearted moments and a hoo-rah uplifting ending. It’s good stuff.