It’s a Barbie world — even the marketing one.
The Barbie movie was officially launched on July 21st, and its promotion continues to be a shining marketing example.
The campaign has all the ingredients to shine your eyes. I’m talking about the clever utilization of one of the most recognizable brand colors worldwide, tons and tons of product partnerships, and even the use of AI and interactivity.
Maybe you were a kid who played with Barbies, maybe not. But it’s a fact that the marketing campaign has struck the right chord to pique the curiosity of this new and anticipated audience for Warner Bros’ upcoming film: us, adults.
As people say, “The devil works hard, but the Barbie movie marketing team works harder.” And we can learn a lot from them.
So, I invite you to join me on a visit to the Barbie world and take a closer look at the marketing behind the new movie.
Barbie is one of the strongest brands in the world – and it knows it
Can you imagine the satisfaction of knowing that your brand can be recognized and convey a message without using any written language? Just a single color.
You don’t have to be a consumer of the brand to recognize that a specific shade of pink represents Mattel’s iconic doll. The Barbie movie marketing team understands this and has cleverly exploited it.
A billboard that consists only of a pink rectangle and a date. Yet, we all know exactly what it means. (Source: Reproduction)
I remember a particular instance when my two-year-old niece saw a pink keychain hanging from my purse. She pointed and said, “Look, it’s from Barbie!”
It wasn’t actually a Barbie keychain. It was simply pink (the right shade of pink). And that alone was enough to create brand recognition in a two-year-old.
Of course, this strategy could never have been employed in the marketing of the 2023 Barbie movie without the doll’s more than 60-year history.
As Eliana Dockterman, a journalist from TIME, aptly stated during an interview with the film’s lead actress, Margot Robbie: “The word ‘Barbie’ has the kind of globally recognized status that only brands like Coca-Cola achieve. Since her debut in 1959, she has been a cultural staple.”
Not only the colors but also every unique characteristic of Barbie has been meticulously explored, from the shape of the foot to the intricacies of the sets and costumes. All to truly bring the pink toys of our childhood to life in a live-action setting. Quoting the famous Aqua song: Life in plastic, it’s fantastic.
There’s definitely a nostalgic charm to it as well, and it’s incredibly effective.
Mattel’s ups and downs
You can’t be a brand with over six decades of history and expect to sail through your journey without facing any challenges.
Barbie, in particular, is a brand that carries complexity.
While it aims to inspire children to imagine themselves as astronauts and politicians, it has faced significant (and valid) criticism for promoting unrealistic body standards and potentially impacting the self-esteem of children, with its traditionally thin-waisted, blond, doll-like appearance.
In 2016, Mattel introduced a new line featuring Barbies with diverse body types. However, it took some time to recover. According to Statista, Mattel experienced a decline in annual net sales from $6.5 billion to $4.5 billion between 2013 and 2018.
As I mentioned, Barbie is a brand that sparks controversy. So, how did the marketing for the Barbie movie tackle this issue? By embracing the controversy itself. As the trailer boldly declares, “If you love Barbie, this movie is for you. If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.”
AI and interactivity
In April, our social media feeds were flooded with people sharing photos of themselves on the Barbie movie poster.
Obviously, this buzz didn’t happen by chance. The Barbie movie marketing team created an artificial intelligence tool that allows anyone to upload their photo and generate a movie poster with the customizable tagline “This Barbie is a ____.”
Source: Warner Bros | Reproduction
Of course, the internet did what the internet does and created endless memes of the results:
Barbie meme inspired by Everything Everywhere All at Once (created by the A24 Film Group and shared by @borrowingtape) and Taylor Swift | Reproduction
From a marketing standpoint, this was brilliant for at least three reasons: artificial intelligence, interactivity, and widespread sharing.
Integrating artificial intelligence into the film’s promotion was a genius move. Let’s be honest: people are captivated by anything that involves “AI” nowadays.
And executing it on an interactive platform that enables user-generated content and encourages organic sharing is the perfect recipe for generating buzz and promoting any company.
Partnerships in the Metaverse and the game universe
Not even the metaverse escaped from the Barbie movie. Forever 21, in partnership with the iconic doll, not only launched a clothing line in physical stores but also replicated it within the virtual realm of Roblox.
And there’s more: the partnership also included a contest where the winner and their fashion style were recreated in the online game platform.
Forever 21 not only launched a clothing line in physical stores but also replicated it within the virtual realm of Roblox. (Source: Mattel | Reproduction)
Xbox is also bringing Barbie into its universe.
The gaming console, owned by Microsoft, is not only hosting a contest where one lucky winner will receive a pink console housed in a mini replica of Barbie’s Dreamhouse, but players of Forza Horizon 5 will also be treated to an in-game replica of Barbie and Ken’s cars from the movie.
The partnership also includes a contest to award winners Barbie dolls dressed in Xbox-branded gear.
The partnership with Xbox awards users with an in-game replica of Barbie and Ken’s cars from the movie. Source: (Forza.net | Reproduction)
Barbie products, but not just for children anymore
Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk about the most timeless and classic aspect of the Barbie phenomenon: merchandise. Countless products, created in collaboration with a large variety of brands.
What’s interesting to note is that, unlike the traditional focus on children that has characterized Barbie’s legacy for the past 60 years, these products are now targeted towards adults, catering to the film’s intended audience.
I’m sure the ‘Barbie girl’ within you would be thrilled to have the opportunity to stay at Barbie’s Malibu DreamHouse alongside Ken. Well, thanks to Airbnb, that dream can actually come true.
The list of partnership products seems to be never-ending, ranging from the expected, like makeup and clothing, to the unexpected, such as a Barbie-themed toothbrush and even a Barbie Cruise experience.
You’ll notice that a significant portion of the Barbie movie marketing wasn’t actually for and from the live-action marketing team.
It comes from the care that Mattel has taken with the brand, allowing it to be very well-established for decades (although we have to admit, the movie team did an excellent job of embracing all the aspects, even the controversial ones).
It also comes from covering various points of promotion, including the latest trends like AI, the Metaverse, and the world of gaming—perfectly positioned to target the movie-specific audience, which, I must mention, isn’t the same as the traditional Barbie doll audience, adding an extra challenge.
And, well… from the world. It’s fueled by the buzz generated by people and strategic partnerships with other brands.
Like I said, it’s a Barbie world — even the marketing one.
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Cover photo: Jennifer Killens