It’s the Barbie marketing team’s world – and we’re just living in it.
In a time where the devil works hard and Kris Jenner works harder, it’s clear the Barbie movie’s marketing team by far works the hardest.
From the expert utilisation of one of the most recognizable brand colours in the world to 100s of brand partnerships, charity campaigns, celebrity styling masterclasses and even the use of AI, the team has left no stone unturned to create one of the most inescapable marketing campaigns of recent years.
Whether you played with the dolls as a child or not, this marketing campaign has struck the right chord to pique the curiosity of a new audience for the upcoming film: us. Adults.
So how has it done this?
The language of Barbie pink
Where do you begin when it comes to crafting a marketing campaign to promote a global movie sensation? Easy, with what you already have.
When we think of Barbie, we think of pink.
In fact, in the realms of fashion, high feminine pink is often referred to as “Barbiecore”, pinnacling the brand’s impact on wider culture.
The marketing team has therefore made the most of this “amazing asset”, consistently deploying Barbie pink, from Margot Robbie’s promotional wardrobe to the background of the brand’s selfie generator, to entire billboards printed purely with the pantone colour and release date. Nothing else.
All promotional assets become instantly recognisable as “Barbie”, exposing millions to the promotional campaign whether they want to be or not.
Making the best (and worst) of Mattel
Barbie is a brand that carries complexity and Mattel knows it. For you can’t be a brand with over six decades of history and expect to sail through your journey unblemished.
While Mattel has aimed to inspire children’s imagination, Barbie has suffered significant (and valid) criticism for promoting unrealistic body standards – a doll with luscious blonde locks and impossible proportions - which has arguably impacted the self-esteem of children over multiple generations.
And while Barbie has since diversified its dolls, introducing astronauts, diplomats, surgeons, Paralympians as well as replicas of figures such as Malala Yousafzai and Professor Sarah Gilbert (who helped design the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine), critics have not quietened.
So how did the team embrace a brand that sparks such controversy? Full on. That's how.
Trailers and promotions have boldly declared, “If you love Barbie, this movie is for you. If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.” and, well, you guessed it… the critics now want to see it.
Brand partnerships galore
Onto the most timeless and familial aspect of the Barbie phenomenon: merchandise.
What do Airbnb, the London Underground, Bumble, Propercorn, Krispy Kreme, OPI Nail Polish and Xbox all have in common? A partnership with Barbie.
In a world where “plastic is fantastic” Barbie has targeted swathes of adults through a steady roll out of more than 100 commercial brand partnerships. But don’t be fooled, these brands haven’t been chosen by random, far from it. Those chosen are all leaders in their fields, deftly lifting the film out of the quagmire of being just for little girls and rather being promoted as a work of entertainment for adults to lose themselves in.
And judging by the reaction of social media, this steady drumbeat of collaborations has escalated anticipation to a fever pitch, leaving people clamouring for more… at the same time tickets go on sale.
And then there’s more…
Partnerships haven’t just been commercial, they have forayed into the social and cultural.
Take celebrity home tour videos. These have become a digital landmark on YouTube featuring everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Whiz Khalifa, so who’s the latest to do this? Barbie. Robbie took viewers on a tour of the Malibu Barbie House via Architectural Digest’s YouTube channel, a 7-minute video that’s racked up over 10m views.
Beyond commercialism, the campaign has seeped into the worlds of AI, the metaverse, gaming and charity (the cast has teamed up with Save the Children on a programme that works to ensure girls are given equal opportunities across developing nations).
The lesson here? Don’t narrow your audience if you don’t need to. Sometimes it pays to promote to those you wouldn’t have banked on being a fan. After all, if your campaign’s that good, it’ll compel even your harshest critic to at least take note.
The Beauty of a backdrop
Two iconic backdrops have prevailed in the promotion of this movie: The Selfie Generator and Bondi Beach. While being very different, both have achieved one goal; go viral.
Mattel and Warner Bros took on the power of the internet and allowed the public free reign on creativity and personalisation. Barbie supplied iconic backdrops and fans did the rest. It’s been reported that millions of images have been uploaded and shared across social media of people photoshopping themselves or celebs onto these backgrounds.
Sometimes it pays to take the backseat while you put fans in the driving seat. It’s a risk, yes, but the gamble of embracing the risks has certainly paid off.
Letting the leading women shine
“Barbie is everything, he’s just a Ken”.
Far from leaving this tagline for the plot alone, it has been embraced across the global promotional tour, where the female stars have been everything.
Margot Robbie, Greta Gerwig and America Ferrara have been stalwarts of the film’s international premieres – and Ryan Gosling has been to a handful. Margot has been decked out in designers imitating iconic Barbie doll dresses to clearly show she is the star. And Ryan has dressed well.
This isn’t down to schedules, it’s a real-life representation of the plot line designed to generate interest in how this will translate into the film’s storyline.
Furthermore, they haven’t been afraid to broach the topic of feminism.
When Gerwig was announced as the film’s screenwriter and director, people were surprised. A woman who has made a name for herself creating and representing the strength and complexities of various female protagonists seemed to “sell out” for Barbie.
To combat this critique, the marketing team stuck to its guns and deployed consistency in action; not playing safe, rising to face the critics and allowing the media to grill Gerwig, Robbie and Ferrara on the topics of feminism and representation. Resulting in articles (and articles) about the film beyond just the media’s entertainment section.
So yes, having a reported $100m budget, the leading actress as the film’s producer, a colour so iconic it is its own language and a franchise not tied to playing safe does undoubtedly provide a unique foundation from which to create a masterpiece of marketing. However, despite this, Mattel’s marketing team has given us lessons in creating a clamour that we can all learn from.
Ultimately, when it comes down to it, amidst the glitz, the glamour and clamour, the strategy is incredibly simple: capitalise on a few simple ingredients that are so iconic they transcend global societal differences and deploy them consistently throughout all marketing and comms.
A campaign no one can miss. Literally.
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