Unless you've been trapped in a plastic toy box for the last few months, you would know that Greta Gerwig's Barbie movie, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, has been everywhere. In fact, it is almost impossible to head out without seeing a flash of hot pink or a reference to the iconic movie at this point and that largely has to do with the film's huge marketing budget which far surpasses the cost it took to actually make the film itself.
It was recently revealed by Variety that the marketing budget given to the team was an estimated US$150 million, just over the US$145 million production budget that was used to create the film.
With the enormous budget, the Barbie team took to the streets to spread the word, collaborating with fashion brands such as Aldo, Zara, Crocs and more to put out hot pink collections and creating massive activations such as a giant Barbie dreamhouse with Airbnb and a building sized 3D ad in Dubai.
With its massive reach, it's safe to say that the Barbie movie has made a significant impact on the marketing scene and that lessons from it will be taken into the future for other marketing campaigns. So, what exactly are some lessons we can take from the iconic movie?
For a start, it is important to recognise that the film's marketing success lies largely in the fact that it was able to bring together paid, owned and earned media to reinforce Barbie's stand as a global icon.
"From a product standpoint, there was everything from a movie, to toys, to licensed products. While movie and toy marketing have a rather traditional formula of being rolled out, I thought the endless licensed items were really what helped to catapult the brand into the public space, because the collabs were pitched at such a wide demographic from fashion brands such as Zara and Cotton to footwear like Superga and Crocs, to stationery, home fragrances and Halloween costumes," said Jian Yang, the managing partner and head of strategy at Distilleri. He said:
These allowed many different types of conversations to be had around a single brand, creating a high frequency and therefore high impact execution.
Whether you saw an ad, a social post, a piece of created content, a review, a Margot Robbie red carpet look, or a shopping link, you were now just a little more aware of the hype that would be the Barbie brand. Not the movie. But the brand, he emphasised.
Once this is acknowledged by marketers, they will begin to see the value in each of the media forms, but also hopefully be able to deploy them appropriately, instead of just looking at a 'PR campaign' or a 'social media campaign', he added.
Act like a brand, not a product
With how these elements were seamlessly brought together, it stands to reason that the first key takeaway marketers can take from the Barbie marketing strategy is to act like you are a brand and not a product.
"What is the big idea that holds your whole brand narrative together? I think the magic of the Barbie Movie marketing efforts was that it wasn't the old 'get bums in the seats' objective," said Yang.
"That's a very dated concept, and probably one that only benefits Warner Brothers. This was clearly a brand objective which got people to fall back in love with the Barbie brand, and what would follow would not just be bums in seats, but an avalanche of Barbie brand love, and purchase," he noted.
Agreeing with him, Don Anderson, CEO of Kaddadle acknowledged that Warner and Mattel played a careful hand in acknowledging the brand’s 64-year-old history, through in-movie references that core fans would immediately get, to their initial, single-image teaser at ComicCon back in 2022 of Barbie in her legendary pink Corvette.
"And they kept it coming from there bringing it all together in one mighty marketing crescendo complimented by some amazing, inventive partnerships like the real-life Airbnb Barbie Dreamhouse, its bright fuchsia Xbox, and the makeover of Sydney’s iconic Bondi Icebergs Swimming Club. It’s near impossible to not see Barbie anyway in any city, this summer," he said.
A choose-your-own-experience partnership strategy
Speaking of how Barbie-mania seemed to overtake almost every retail and commercial space out there, another key to Barbie's marketing success came with its extensive list of partnerships.
From a brand perspective, these partnerships presented an attractive value exchange, noted Acacia Leroy, head of trends and insights at Culture Group. She noted that brands could ride on the cultural moment created by the beloved Barbie IP, while the movie could leverage the brand’s reach and equity to reach wider audiences, even those that traditionally would not be Barbie’s direct target consumers.
From a consumer perspective – the widely varied array of partnerships allowed fans to engage with the ones that appeal directly to them, she said, adding that this choose-your-own-experience strategy extended beyond just the partnerships.
The Barbie Movie first started their campaign with the meme-able posters, allowing fans to customise it, and insert themselves into Barbie world in a playful and personal way, she said, citing a selfie generator that gave fans the opportunity to insert pictures of themselves straight into Barbie Land. An AI generator will automatically remove your photo's background for you and then you can adjust the placement of the photo, the color of your sparkly background and the tagline that is shown above the photo.
"Essentially, the Barbie marketing strategy is so successful because it has allowed consumers across the board to insert themselves into the narrative in ways that appeal the most to them," Leroy said.
Anderson added on by noting that what Barbie likely demonstrated best was that a 'breadcrumb' marketing strategy of drip-feeding consumers little tastes of the product and brand here and there, be it through simple on-ground stunts and quirky social media posts and video teasers, to unique corporate partnerships, can be done extraordinarily well.
"Sometimes it just takes a committed, creative team willing to experiment, regardless of how much budget they have at their disposal," he said.
Find a high impact gimmick
Saying that, the impact of Barbie's marketing efforts would not have been felt if a large portion of its marketing efforts were not high impact. For example, the Airbnb Barbie Dreamhouse was "barely an experience", according to Yang.
It was a statement. A statement so bold, unexpected and silly that you had no choice but to sit up and take notice.
"Media had no choice but to publish stories about it. This was hot on the heels of Barbie announcing their Down Syndrome Barbie doll which shot the brand back into the spotlight for the first time after 2016's Project Dawn (in which they introduced curvy, petite and tall body types). Each was a reason for people to be talking about the brand again," Yang added.
Saying that, high impact gimmicks take significant budgets that most marketing teams might not have. However, according to Kevin Kan, cleverage the momentum of other large campaigns going on which compliments and provides similar and relatable sentiments for consumer engagement.
"For example, Starbucks' Blackpink K-pop collaboration saw a line of black and pink limited-edition merchandise," he said. "This was a great opportunity for them to ride the wave of the Barbie phenomena."
While not specifically branded for Barbie, it was a way for them to leverage the budget of another promotion with similar brand affinity without them having to have a large marketing budget themselves, Kan noted.
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