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Barbie, the Queen of the Marketing Campaign

2023 has been the year of Barbie-mania. As Greta Gerwig’s box-office smash broke records for the most commercially successful film from a female director, it felt almost impossible to not go party with Barbie.

But it’s not just the film’s unexpected plot, all-star cast and stellar soundtrack that got everyone talking. People have been left in awe of a global marketing campaign that seems to have - at least for a summer - painted the whole world Barbie pink.

The Warner Bros. marketing team managed to build and sustain a level of hype that, even months after the movie hit cinemas, shows no sign of losing momentum. So, in this post we’ll be answering the question everyone’s asking: just how did they do it?

Painting the World Pink

If it feels like everyone’s talking about Barbie - it’s because they are. It’s not just the hype around the film that was unprecedented, but the way in which the Barbie brand was suddenly everywhere. With an estimated $140 million marketing budget - more than the film actually cost to make - the Warner Bros. team went into overdrive to ensure that we were all living in a Barbie world.

The movie launched alongside more than a hundred shiny branding deals. From Barbie-endorsed home insurance to a sold-out line of Barbie crocs, there was seemingly no industry that couldn’t be re-packaged with a dose of bubble-gum sparkle.

A pink Barbie DreamHouse, which fans could rent on AirBnB, appeared in Malibu whilst other DreamHouses popped up in cities around the world. Even Google got on board. Through their own metrics, they saw how much Barbie-mania was taking over. For a day, Barbie sparkles lit up Google search results.

Elsewhere, part of the Warner Bros marketing campaign included participating in gay pride month events in multiple cities, including Los Angeles and New York. Colourful floats and Barbie-core roller skaters connected with LGBTQIA+ audiences and gave the 1950s-born brand a cultural reset.

The sheer scale of the Barbie marketing campaign was, quite honestly, mind-blowing. Infiltrating multiple and sometimes unexpected industries and hitting headlines almost daily, Barbie-fever became an inescapable part of 2023.

Defying Expectations

From the start, the Warner Bros marketing team led with a clear message: this film won’t be what you’re expecting from a Barbie movie. Forget about a sickly sweet boy-meets-girl plot. This movie will be challenging, different and - ultimately - really smart.

One of the movie’s early advertising taglines? ‘If you love Barbie, this movie is for you. If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you’. Way beyond simply appealing to the masses, the marketing campaign played up to Barbie stereotypes and promised to smash them.

One of the early teaser trailers was a homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, showing girls in a prehistoric desert playing with Barbie dolls, before then destroying them on rocks after a giant Barbie appears looming above them.

By breaking the mould, the trailers heightened curiosity. Yet very little was released about the plot of the film itself - and this was no accident. It’s what Warner Bros. President of Global Marketing, Josh Goldstine, described as a breadcrumb strategy, saying ‘we gave people little elements of the movie and to stimulate curiosity and that created conversation.’

As a result, by the 21st of June - the movie’s release date - excitement was at a fever-pitch. Whether people resonated with the storyline or not, even if the first reviews had rolled in luke-warm, it was almost guaranteed that people were going to flock to the cinemas to see the movie for themselves.

In the end, Barbie’s opening weekend crushed even the highest box-office expectations. The hype was maintained by movie-goers flaunting pink outfits, sharing snaps posed in giant Barbie doll boxes. Anyone and everyone hit the cinema - because nobody wanted to be the person who hadn’t seen Barbie yet.

The Rise of Barbenheimer

Barbie was due to hit the big screen at the same time as Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated Oppenheimer, a biopic about J Robert Oppenheimer’s role in building the atomic bomb.

As the two blockbusters battled for box-office dominance, Barbie and Oppenheimer became - somewhat unexpectedly - intertwined. The contrasting subject matter and aesthetic captured imagination on social media and fuelled posts, memes and people committing to watch both films back-to-back.

A powerful example of counter-programming, the Barbenheimer phenomenon mutually bolstered each movie’s success and culminated in the fourth biggest collective box office turnout in history.

What’s Next For Barbie?

The Barbie campaign didn’t just launch a film to dizzying box-office heights; it created a complete cultural reset for a decades-old brand. As the Warner Bros head of marketing puts it, ‘it stopped becoming a marketing campaign and took on the quality of a movement.’

Part of this movement was the rise of Barbiecore. People don’t just want to watch Barbie on the big screen. They want to dress like Barbie. To decorate their homes like Barbie. To listen to music Barbie would listen to. To eat what Barbie would eat.

The result? Plenty of miles left in the tank for monetization through brand-deals and merchandise. Inevitably, even non-affiliated brands are keen to jump on the Barbie bandwagon. From a bright fuchsia Xbox to an influx of sparkly kitsch on the high street, companies are tapping into the marketing magic of bubble-gum pink.

Before the film hit the cinemas, Mattel President and COO Richard Dickson declared that the company ‘wants to get everyone playing with Barbie - and that doesn’t necessarily mean playing with a doll’. With one of the most momentous marketing campaigns in recent history, they managed to get us all living in a Barbie world.

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