We’re all living in a Barbie world: Lessons from the worldwide takeover

I’ve never been much of a Barbie girl. In fact, at one of my grade school birthday parties, I shouted with childish brazenness, “I HATE Barbies,” only to be humbled and embarrassed when one of the party attendees handed me a present shaped in that all-too-familiar rectangular box. It was a Barbie. I ended up loving her.

While my nostalgia meter is not completely off the charts this “Barbiecore summer,” I do appreciate a well-executed marketing campaign, though I don’t think you have to be a marketer to know that the team at Warner Bros. has pulled out all the stops. I am surprised they didn’t turn the Pacific Ocean pink for the occasion.

They did, however, turn a lot of other things pink: billboards, burgers and a bookable airbnb. I came across a great thread on Twitter that shared just a handful of the many placements, activations and collaborations that went into promoting the flick. It’s worth the scroll.

Barbie for a Billion

In an interview with Collider, Margot Robbie, the movie’s producer and the actress that plays Barbie herself, shared that she pitched Barbie as a movie that could make the studio a billion dollars.

A potentially billion-dollar grossing movie likely has a hefty marketing plan behind it. In fact, rival studios have estimated it cost a whopping $150 million dollars, more than the movie’s actual production budget. So, before we all “ooh and ahh” over Barbie’s masterful worldwide takeover, let’s acknowledge the fact that for $150 million, it better be everywhere.

While we may never come across a client with a $150 million dollar budget (here’s to hoping, though!), there are some notes worth taking. Here are mine.

Hitting them everywhere.

The best communications campaign doesn’t exist in one spot. It’s not just PR. It’s not just traditional advertising. Or paid social. Or a flashy landing page. The best campaigns leverage multiple platforms and entry points.

The Barbie promotion has done that and more.

They launched brand collaborations out the wazoo, like Progressive Insurance, Xbox and Forever21, to name a few. They rolled out traditional advertising like billboards and bus wraps (and this insane, larger-than-life 3D Barbie). They hit TVs with a Barbie-themed HGTV show and a Barbie group date on ABC’s The Bachelorette. Music lovers caught a new Barbie song featuring Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice, which at the time of publishing had over 41M views. There have been in-person activations all over the world – a cruise out of Boston, a World of Barbie exhibit in Los Angeles, a Barbie makeover of Sydney’s Bondi Icebergs Club pool and more. And then traditional PR like talk show appearances – Margot Robbie even did a tour of the Barbie mansion with Architectural Digest and shared with the world that her bucket list included meeting Ryan Gosling. Check.

I may not know what the movie is actually about, but I absolutely know it is out.

By hitting consumers in so many places, it is impossible to miss. And the same can be said for any campaign of any budget, all the way down to a singular piece of content. Blog content should get turned into written social posts, graphics, videos, sound bites, one-pagers and more.

Content takes time to create, so let it live in as many places as possible to get every last drop you can squeeze out of it – and give it the most chances at being seen.

Warner Bros. thought outside of the (plastic) box.

We’ve all shown up to a brainstorm and have been told to think outside of the box, but the promotion of the Barbie movie should be a case study for creative tactics. What I would give to be a fly on the wall of that brainstorm – where someone (hopefully an intern) threw out the idea of getting Google to spray pink confetti and turn the results page pink when “Ryan Gosling,” “Margot Robbie” or “Greta Gerwig” was searched. Seems doable. Or how about a Burger King burger with Barbie pink sauce? Sure, add it to the list.

No idea is too big. Nothing is off the table. May we all bring that level of creativity (and insanity) to our team brainstorms.

No one wanted to miss out on Barbie’s party, not even my nail lady.

One success worth reflecting on was not purchased with Barbie’s $150 million marketing budget. Though that certainly got the ball rolling.

It’s the word-of-mouth Barbie craze that has taken over from a micro level. Small and mid-size brands that are not even getting paid to promote the movie are hopping onto the pink convertible to try and get a piece of the pie while it’s hot.

Barbie is getting exorbitant amounts of extra exposure, thus stretching its budget even further and reaching more people.

My local nail lady was posting about a Barbie manicure. A horoscope account shared a Barbie character for every zodiac sign. Our beloved North End Juice Co. right here in Richmond, released a Barbenheimer drink. Movie goers are dressing up as historic Barbies and sharing their outfits. Small beauty creators are sharing Barbie-inspired make up looks.

And this is all happening at no cost to Warner Bros.

(Well, just $150 million.)

Aidan Newbold

With almost ten years of experience in the design space, Aidan Newbold is The Hodges Partnership’s Director of Creative Services. She has a multidisciplinary background with experience in graphic design, fine art, illustration, writing, advertising and photography.

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