What Can Marketers Learn From Barbie’s Massive Marketing Campaign?

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We are currently living in a Barbie World. Everywhere we look—whether scrolling on our For You pages, going shopping, or just out living our lives—the color pink is inescapable: pink clothing, pink home goods, pink food, pink everything. The film Barbie is taking over every corner of the internet and real life. Even people who couldn’t care less about the movie were getting bombarded with content on their social channels. 

Barbie’s marketing became so in-your-face that memes began to flood in about how the marketing team in charge of Barbie was in overdrive and not sleeping. It is being viewed as the marketing campaign of the year and, not only was the marketing loud, it was successful. Barbie won big at the box office on its opening weekend, earning $162 million in the U.S. and $356 million globally, making it the biggest box office weekend in 2023 so far. 

@jessvalortiz I have NEVER seen so much press for a movie and i certainly aint mad about it💖 #barbie #barbiemovie ♬ Beep – ItsAndrewz🥴

But what did the marketing team do to accomplish this? 

An important foundation for any campaign is nailing down the branding. In Barbie’s case, when you think of the doll and brand, you think of the color pink, which has been established since the 1970s. Barbie’s logo and the specific shade of hot pink people are seeing everywhere have already been trademarked and provided an amazing starting point visually for the campaign. 

It is estimated that Barbie had a marketing budget of $150 million, more than the actual film’s budget ($145 million). Beyond standard film press tours, Barbie put this budget and their trademarked pink to use by forming a massive amount of partnerships. It is estimated that Mattel formed over 100 partnerships, including Target, Gap, Xbox, Bumble, Cold Stone, Hot Topic, Burger King, Ulta Beauty, Forever 21, and Bloomingdale’s. For audiences, it was as if anywhere they looked, they were guaranteed to find a product they were looking for in pink. 

Mattel benefited from these partnerships by either being paid a flat licensing fee by the brand or being given a 5% to 15% cut of sales. In the process, the film racked up tons of paid and earned media—Some solely from the audience’s astonishment at how many brands Barbie was putting its mark on. 

But its team didn’t stop at brand partnerships alone: Where Barbie truly made an impact was in their out-of-the-box initiatives. For example, the Barbie selfie generator allowed audiences to turn their selfie into an image similar to Barbie’s poster and place themselves into Barbie Land, helping Mattel generate a flood of user-generated content. 

One of the most buzzed-about initiatives was the Barbie Dreamhouse in Malibu, Calif. In partnership with Airbnb, Mattel transformed an oceanfront mansion in the hills of Malibu into a pink wonderland and a next-level experience for fans. Only a few lucky people had the opportunity to rent it, and when they did, they were able to live in Barbie Land, try on Ken’s clothes, hang out by Barbie’s pool, and more. Other experiential elements included a boat cruise in Boston and life-size Barbie boxes for audiences to take pictures inside in theaters.

Barbie also had smaller but equally entertaining and impactful initiatives such as rollerbladers decked out in Barbie pink and neon yellow rollerblades in the NYC Pride March in June, and Google turning pink when “Barbie” or one of the actors in the movie was searched. 

Barbie stayed top-of-mind and at the forefront of film advertising by leveraging experiential marketing tactics and a barrage of partnerships, but something truly awe-inspiring that bloomed from its marketing was how Barbie has truly propelled itself to the center of conversations and internet culture. They were able to harness the power of social media and the goldmine that is internet buzz and user-generated content. 

When asked by Variety, “How much of the marketing was manufactured, and how much took off organically?” Warner Bros. President of Global Marketing Josh Goldstein responded: “We saw it as a breadcrumb strategy, where we gave people little elements of the movie to stimulate curiosity and that created conversation. In every campaign, there are elements of earned media [like social media buzz] and paid media [such as a trailer spot]. We believed this brand had the opportunity to generate some exciting earned media. Some of the choices we made stimulated that. Then it did totally take on a life of its own.”

Millions online wanted to create their own Barbie memes, art, costumes and outfits, theory videos, and more, resulting in endless UGC content. One of the most intriguing organic social media phenomena to come out of the lead-up to the release was the “Barbenheimer” memes and discussions. The definition of Barbenheimer found online? “An Internet phenomenon that began circulating on social media before the simultaneous theatrical release of two blockbuster films, Barbie and Oppenheimer, on July 21, 2023.”

A myriad of memes, artificial-intelligence-generated content, and discussions were focused on the “rivalry,” and people were entranced by the competition of who would triumph over the other on opening day (for the record, it was Barbie). 

Even brands (without partnerships) and small businesses got in on the fun, asking customers to cast a vote for which movie they were going to see first to boost their own online engagement or even fill their tip jars. Boosting the Barbie (and Oppenheimer) film became a fun activity to participate in, not just an advertising initiative (although it served as a major boost to advertising!). 

If you didn’t catch the drift, Barbie’s marketing was met with overwhelmingly positive feedback and sentiment from audiences. People wanted to join in on the fun in countless ways, and the excitement built around the movie even led masses of people to show up to theaters wearing pink. 

Mattel doesn’t intend to let the buzz it built fade away, either. It plans to leverage marketing to continue producing products and keep people loyal and invested in the brand and the Barbie girl-power culture. 

What can marketers learn from Barbie marketing? Start by developing a strong sense of self, including a robust brand voice and distinct values. This will attract audiences and customers that align with your values, building loyalty and trust. Barbie successfully boosted its cultural relevance by making its feminist and inclusive values known, while also giving audiences a space to express themselves in fun and fashionable ways.

Inspire UGC creation. UGC content can provide a goldmine of earned media, so get creative with tactics to inspire people to join in on the conversation. Creators are an excellent resource to propel UGC into the social media space and they encourage their followers to follow in their footsteps, opening the door for a chain reaction of engagement. 

Take advantage of experiential events. They are an amazing approach to shine a spotlight on your campaign in a tangible way audiences can enjoy. When putting together an experiential event, inviting creators and allowing them to share exclusive content boosts visibility and gives audiences a special look into something they may have missed otherwise. 

Lean into niches that may seem unexpected. While it is never a miss to speak to those in a niche you know will love your brand, take a risk and extend an arm to some new areas. Who knows? You may discover a new area where your fans live. For example, Barbie tapped into unexpected areas such as Xbox, reaching gamer girls and gamer Barbie fans.

We can learn from Barbie that tapping into extreme creativity, taking risks, and making big statements has the ability to yield incredible results. Will this influence your next campaign?

Open Influence is a global influencer marketing agency that encourages hyper-creativity and risk-taking. Reach out to us today!

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