Barbie doll and illustrations on blue and pink background

Barbie: Lessons from this year’s big marketing hit


In this article, we delve into Barbie’s marketing triumph, exploring how a blend of nostalgia, strategic partnerships, and immersive experiences fueled its success.

9th Aug 2023

The Barbie movie marketing campaign is achieving remarkable success, reinvigorating the iconic doll’s image through a combination of nostalgia, strategic brand collaborations, and fan experience. The movie captured the hearts of fans worldwide and surpassed all expectations at the box office, hitting $1 billion globally.

Tugging at heartstrings

Nostalgia is a powerful tool in marketing, and the Barbie team capitalised on this. Since its launch in 1959, the doll has held a special place in the hearts of millions, symbolising fashion, dreams, and imagination. The movie leveraged this emotional connection, taking adults back to their memories of playing with the doll while introducing the next generation to the iconic toy, incorporating classic Barbie elements from previous decades into the movie’s storyline. By doing so, they created a sense of familiarity and excitement among both new and long-time fans, ensuring a widespread interest in the film.

The secrets to the movie’s success lay in the marketing team’s ability to create a ‘moment’.

“The secrets to the movie’s success lay in the marketing team’s ability to create a ‘moment’ that masses of people want to be part of,” says Connor Campbell, a business expert at NerdWallet. “By playing to their strengths of pushing the strong identity of Barbie as a brand – utilising hot pink and iconic fonts, alongside appealing to nostalgia – the Barbie marketing team have generated significant buzz and anticipation.”

Strategic collaborations

The Barbie movie marketing campaign extended its reach through strategic brand partnerships, widening Barbie’s appeal to diverse audiences. 

UNO is the most talked about Barbie collaboration, with 163,259 mentions and a 74% positive sentiment. Airbnb’s offering of a Barbie Dreamhouse rental in Malibu follows with 58,067 mentions, while Xbox takes third place with 50,409 mentions, according to data aggregated by Sprinklr.

barbie brand collabs by popularity

Dave Bruno, Director of Retail Market Insights at Aptos, says: “For most of us, anything Barbie harkens back to happier times. Not surprisingly, retailers are all in on the pink promotions and collaborations for this blockbuster-timed release. 

“Even Crocs, whose legendary brand is built on the extreme comfort of their shoes – the very antithesis of Barbie’s arch-bending high heels – has launched a collection of pink Barbie-themed products.”

The entertainment industry also played a crucial role in boosting the campaign’s visibility. Celebrities and social media influencers shared their enthusiasm for the movie, sparking conversations and generating buzz across various platforms. In addition, the Barbie soundtrack features artists such as Dua Lipa, Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice and Billie Eilish, becoming the first movie soundtrack to have three Top 5 songs in the Official Singles Chart simultaneously. 

By strategically aligning with well-loved brands and leveraging the influence of superstars, the Barbie movie marketing campaign demonstrated the power of strategic brand collaborations in creating an engaging and far-reaching promotional strategy.

Immersive and interactive experiences

The marketing campaign emphasised creating an immersive experience beyond the cinema screen. Interactive pop-up stores and themed events were organised in major cities, allowing fans to engage with iconic Barbie settings. Augmented reality (AR) filters and interactive social media challenges further fueled the anticipation.

“Tapping into our nostalgia-obsessed society with integrated product collaborations, store experiences and social media activations - pulled directly from timeless pop culture franchises - makes for a wildly successful output of retail marketing and merchandising strategies at play (pun intended),” Dave Bruno adds. 

This interactive approach fostered a sense of community among fans and solidified Barbie’s position as more than just a toy – it became a shared experience.

This Barbie is an editor

This barbie is an editor with Sabine Groven headshotIn the lead-up to the release of the Barbie movie, a series of posters emerged, depicting the movie characters as various Barbie personas. Dua Lipa’s poster stated: “This Barbie is a mermaid”, whereas Hari Nef’s read: “This Barbie is a doctor.” 

The marketing team behind Barbie tapped into the trend of fans aligning the iconic doll with their identities, encouraging fans to create their own posters. The Barbie Selfie Generator struck a chord that echoed across social media platforms.

Beyond personal ‘This Barbie is a...’ images, the templates prompted a surge of creativity, including popular culture references and political discourse.

One ticket for Barbenheimer, please 

Social media users have witnessed the internet phenomenon ‘Barbenheimer’, a reaction to the simultaneous release of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer and Greta Gerwig’s Barbie. The stark contrast in the themes and tones of these two movies has given rise to several memes. Rather than creating a rivalry between the movies, fans suggested watching them as a double feature and discussed the order in which to do so. However, Barbie is dominating the conversation, being mentioned 43,811,519 times, whereas Oppenheimer generated only 9,100,268 mentions in comparison (Sprinklr).

Barbie vs Oppenheimer social mentions dashboard

Know your customer

In the ever-evolving marketing landscape, grand-scale campaigns can give valuable insights that resonate across the spectrum. As Liz Carter, CMO at Reputation, notes, the Barbie movie’s success also provides lessons for those who don’t have a staggering $150 million budget: “My key takeaway: know your customer and understand where they are.”

Know your customer and understand where they are.

“Build partnerships that look seamless and make it easy for them to engage with you. Even if your brand isn’t a beloved cultural icon, you can get closer to your consumer by asking for and listening to their feedback, and then taking action from it. Showing customers that you care will also appeal to emotions, no matter your marketing budget,” she recommends. 

Hannah Matthewman, Head of Brand and Marketing at Embryo, adds that it’s not always right to jump on the wagon: “Another interesting point is brands who have released Barbie collections aimed at children when the film is for those who used to play with Barbies, not those who are playing with them now.”

She continues: “I feel like this misalignment just shows that sometimes brands don’t need to be involved in everything. Instead, their campaigns should be authentic and purposeful.”

Hype vs social responsibility

Amid the dazzling BarbieCore phenomenon, where enthusiasts have been drawn into a world of Barbie artefacts, another conversation emerges. 

Sophie Whike, Client Partner at Brandwidth, raises concerns that cast a sobering light on the whole spectacle: “The displays and decorations will inevitably end up in landfill after only a few weeks.

“There is also a hypocrisy linked with the whole ‘female empowerment’ marketing approach when it’s (mostly) the exploitation of women that is fuelling the consumerism and a surge in fast fashion. Can you really claim to be a feminist if your ‘feminist/Barbie’ t-shirt was made by a woman earning below minimum wage in a sweatshop in India?”

Can you really claim to be a feminist if your ‘feminist/Barbie’ t-shirt was made by a woman earning below minimum wage in a sweatshop in India?

Hannah Matthewman adds: “It will be interesting to see in the Autumn months as the hype dies down and new blockbusters are released. Will we still see people wearing the pink logo out and about or will it just be another item that falls into the back of the wardrobe or landfill?”

Ultimately, there is a lesson in balancing joining the hype and addressing issues like sustainability and equality. As the curtain falls on Barbie’s grand marketing campaign, we’re reminded that beneath the glamourous surface, there is a lot more to unpack. 

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