What We Can All Learn From the Barbie Marketing Team
- Collaboration counts. Partnering with other brands can significantly enhance reach and impact.
- Experiences matter. Immersive real-world experiences generate buzz and strengthen brand connection.
- Beyond tradition. Non-traditional marketing channels can help make a memorable impact.
Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” pulled in $155 million in its box office opening weekend, filling seats in more than 4,000 North American theaters and surpassing the much-anticipated “Oppenheimer.”
The pink-filled flick is ranked the best box office performance of the year so far and the best domestic opening for a woman director ever. And while the success of “Barbie” hinged on a good movie, one other factor undeniably came into play — the marketing team.
Barbie Reminds Us Why We Love Movies
Think about the last time you were excited about a movie — not just to buy tickets and watch the show, but to immerse yourself in the full experience of an imaginary world.
“Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” come to mind. Fans dressed up to attend midnight premieres with their friends, often hosting pre- and post-film parties to discuss, celebrate and get a little nerdy. And they bought branded products to look the part and feel a little bit of magic.
But the movie industry hasn’t been able to keep up this inspiring trend, especially with the pandemic torpedoing peoples’ ability to go to theaters and economic tensions making ticket prices (and refreshments) unaffordable.
Enter “Barbie,” a glimpse of what the movie-going experience used to be.
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How the Barbie Marketing Team Won Our Hearts
Movie marketing today has become standard (AKA boring). We get a teaser or two, then a full-length trailer. Maybe some branded merchandise if it’s a big reboot or Marvel film. If there’s true hype, it tends to be user-generated.
Barbie’s marketing team approached things a little differently.
Products, Products, Products
A movie about a famous product cashing in on product marketing? Sounds about right.
Branded products give people a chance to own part of the movie experience. And Barbie has a leg up here, because a big chunk of the target audience grew up with Barbies in their houses (and now have money to spend). But we’re not just talking dolls. If you can think of the product, there’s probably a Barbie collection for it.
Looking for clothes and shoes? You can find branded collections from Forever 21, Hot Topic, Gap, Target, Crocs, Aldo shoes, Bloomingdale’s and many more. Or you might want to get your hands on some official Barbie skates from Impala.
You could also find Barbie-themed rugs, luggage, pool floats, toys, dog clothing, accessories and a myriad of different beauty products from a slew of brands.
Make your house smell like Barbie’s Dreamhouse with candles from Homesick (sweet peony, lemon zest and sandalwood) or grab some Barbie Land froyo at Pinkberry (strawberry and dragonfruit).
If you’re looking to go a little more digital, you can snag some Barbie-themed Xbox gear, like custom controller faceplates designed to match Barbie and Ken’s outfits and game content where players can drive the duo’s iconic cars. Xbox also gifted one lucky winner a Series S console built into a Barbie Dreamhouse.
Products can be great, but they’re not the bread and butter of Barbie’s marketing campaign. Instead, it’s experiences. You might hear it called viral marketing, or maybe experiential marketing, but the result is crafting moments people can participate in that evoke strong positive emotions — happiness, amusement, wonder.
For instance, wouldn’t you be excited if you hopped on Airbnb, only to discover you could stay at the real Malibu Barbie Dreamhouse for one night, free of charge? I’d be ecstatic (and skeptical). But it happened to a few lucky people.
On the East coast, Warner Bros. and Fangirl Fantasy paired up to offer a 21+ Barbie Dream Cruise in Boston. Tickets were free and first come, first serve, with attendees getting the chance to dance the night away and participate in giveaways.
Those willing to pay for their Barbie experiences can check out the World of Barbie exhibit in Los Angeles, where attendees can visit the Barbie Dreamhouse, the Barbie Interstellar Rocket, the Barbie Sound Studio and seven other interactive worlds.
There’s also the Barbie-themed hotel in Malaysia, along with pop-up cafes in Chicago and New York City featuring Barbie-inspired food and decor, exclusive merchandise and (in the Windy City) a roller skating rink.
Even if you weren’t seeking Barbie out, the marketing team likely got your attention.
There were Barbie-themed TV ads, hot pink billboards, famous city monuments lit up in pink, Barbie bus stop benches, an appearance from Barbie-themed roller skaters in the DC Pride Parade and even a Barbie-themed episode of “Summer Baking Championship” on the Food Network.
Seriously, when did this marketing team sleep?
A Focus on Physical Theaters
All of this build-up culminates in the big event — the movie’s premiere. Not streaming the film from the couch in your living room, but attending in-person, inviting friends and maybe even wearing a costume, something some theaters encouraged with special “dress-up” screenings.
Theaters offered Barbie-branded products, like cups and popcorn buckets. Alamo Drafthouse released a limited supply of Barbie lunchbox and thermos sets that movie-goers could snag while pre-ordering tickets and collect at the show.
Barbie’s marketing team excelled here in that, in the end, they got people to leave their houses, go to real theaters and get the full movie experience — those magical times where everyone “oohs” and “aahs” at the same moments.
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What Marketers Can Learn From Barbie’s Marketing Team?
Barbie’s success is not just the result of a good film — it’s a testament to the power of exceptional marketing. And you don’t have to work in the movie business to take a page from this marketing team’s playbook.
Lesson #1: Embrace Collaborations
Barbie might be powerful, but she couldn’t have pulled this off on her own. Instead, the marketing team capitalized on the power of collaborating with other brands, especially in the form of branded products.
This strategy resonated with fans who grew up with Barbie, but also attracted new audiences looking for unique and trendy products. Marketers can apply this tactic by seeking creative ways to tie products or services to their brand story and potentially reach new consumer segments.
Lesson #2: Craft Immersive Experiences
In a world saturated with digital content, Barbie’s marketing team realized the power of real-world experiences to evoke strong positive emotions. Their experiential marketing initiatives, like the Malibu Barbie Dreamhouse and Barbie Hotel, provided consumers with unforgettable and exclusive moments.
Creating these immersive experiences generated buzz on and offline, and also nurtured a sense of community among fans. Barbie’s marketing team also took it a step further by pushing the movie exclusively to theaters — barring streamers from tuning in.
By promoting in-person attendance, the marketing team rekindled the nostalgia of shared movie experiences and fostered a deeper emotional connection to the film and brand. Marketers can adopt similar strategies by creating unique in-person experiences or events that encourage people to come together, engage with the brand and create memorable moments.
Lesson #3: Think Beyond Traditional Channels
Barbie’s marketing team covered the basics — a movie trailer, some teasers. But they also demonstrated innovation by exploring non-traditional marketing channels — billboards, city monuments, parades and more. This unconventional approach enabled them to reach diverse audiences and make a memorable impact.
Marketers should consider unconventional channels and creative activations to stand out in a crowded market. Whether it’s using interactive installations, street art or influencer partnerships, embracing unique marketing methods can elevate a brand’s visibility and relevance.
Bring Back Blockbuster Marketing With the Barbie Approach
Can the movie industry churn out another knockout like Barbie anytime soon? Probably not — especially with 10,000+ actors and writers on strike, sending productions to a grinding halt. But I still hold out hope.
In the meantime, marketers can learn a thing or two from Barbie’s marketing team. Through a combination of collaborations, real-world immersion and thinking beyond traditional channels, they drove excitement and anticipation and created an all-encompassing experience around their brand.
Marketers in any industry can use these lessons to create compelling and unforgettable campaigns that resonate with their target audience, foster brand loyalty and ultimately drive business success.