Unless you have been living under a rock, you have seen the marketing campaign for Barbie creep into your everyday life. Warner Bros., the studio behind the movie, went into overdrive promoting the movie by inserting iconic elements of the longtime favorite brand into every aspect of society. The result: a record-breaking box office hit.
So, what can marketers take away from the massively successful promotional campaign for Barbie? Even though Warner Bros. had a relatively large budget, reported to be in the ballpark of $150 million, there are several aspects of the campaign that should inspire others with much lower budgets.
Barbie was first teased at CinemaCon with an image of the character, heavy on the pink and sitting in her iconic convertible. But this was just the beginning. The movie was promoted at various movie and television events, but also at events that were attended by target demographics. Barbie actors, dancers, reps, and branding were seen at PRIDE parades around the country in 2023, generating buzz among the LGBTQ+ community in anticipation of the movie’s release.
The marketing team identified places where the brand fit and their target demographics would be present, and placed their brand front and center. By using the bright pink and recognizable Barbie logo, it was hard to miss and made for “Instagrammable” content.
By identifying opportunities that are not clear and obvious industry standard events, you can expand your reach and make an impact in places where people are not necessarily expecting to be marketed to by your brand.
Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie are two of the most popular and likable actors in Hollywood. So, the Barbie marketing team were working with great spokespeople to promote the movie, and they used that to their advantage. The two actors, who are both subjectively attractive and clearly had good chemistry, were strategically put on talk shows, at events, doing interviews, and promoting the movie across just about every medium imaginable.
When you have a good spokesperson(s) that people gravitate to and relate to, and they represent the brand well, it can be a huge advantage when promoting. There is always the risk that a spokesperson may do or say something that represents the brand poorly. But with good vetting and direction, spokespeople can greatly enhance your messaging.
Mattel, the company behind Barbie, cashed in on the opportunity to cross-promote their other brands and reach a broader audience through the hype surrounding the Barbie movie. Mattel introduced Barbie-themed novelty versions of Hot Wheels, Little People, and even UNO cards during promotions of the movie. This strategy generated additional revenue for other assets that are owned by the company, and may have generated interest in Barbie from fans of those other brands.
By utilizing other assets to promote one another, you reach a broader and more diverse audience that may have otherwise gone untouched. You will want to ensure you do not overdo the cross-promotion and do not antagonize fans of your other products by promoting something they are unlikely to be interested in.
As with any movie, Warner Bros. made a push for media coverage through interviews of their stars and listings of opening weekend. Promotions at events also generated news coverage of the brand’s participation. The media strategy also targeted outlets that may have been less obvious – like the Architecture Digest tour of Barbie’s Dream House hosted by Margot Robbie. This was another instance of the marketing team identifying an opportunity to get more out of a single promotional item and reach an audience where they don’t expect to be engaged by the brand.
Media coverage is “free” advertising for your brand. If what you are doing or selling is newsworthy, identify media outlets that are relevant and that your target audience engages with to pitch stories they may be interested in. Also, get the most out of your assets. You don’t need to create something new for every promotional element. If an asset works to promote your brand in different ways, use it to its maximum potential.
Out of Home Advertising
Billboards, buses, bus stop shelters, benches, posters, 3D screens… This is where a large portion of the marketing budget was spent, but with good reason. The OOH advertising for Barbie made everything pink. And in a world where most of the man-made things we see outside are grey or beige, it popped! One of the most memorable pieces of OOH advertising that came out of the campaign were the billboards with just a flat pink color and the movie’s release date placed in the bottom corner.
Advertisements placed out in the world commonly follow a similar template – a person or product placed in a setting or backdrop with text overlay. It’s easy to forget or recollect information on advertisements that look just like every other advertisement. However, the Barbie marketing team took a chance by providing minimal information, but making sure to draw lots of eyes. It worked.
Out-of-home advertising may seem like a budget-breaker. But when done well, it can be a huge revenue driver. If making this investment, it’s important to make sure the advertisement(s) are strategically placed, well-designed, creative, and memorable. Something as simple a solid color with a memorable text can be enough (but don’t think this will work every time for everything).
One thing that generated exceptionally more reach for Barbie marketing was the brand partnerships. Barbie-themed products and experiences popped up everywhere – Barbie’s Dreamhouse by Airbnb, bracelets from Alex and Ani, watches from Fossil, clothing by Primark, Forever 21, and Gap, shoes by Crocs, roller skates by Impala Skate, burgers by Burger King, desserts by Pinkberry and Coldstone, furniture by Joybird, rugs by Ruggable, beauty products by NYX Cosmetics, and the list goes on.
In an interview with Variety, Warner Bros’ President of Global Marketing explained that many of the cross-promotional partnerships were the result of brands reaching out to them to do collaborations. Warner Bros. and the marketing team created something that people wanted to be a part of and were willing to, essentially, give them free advertising. And the brands benefitted from the partnership as well. Creating a Barbie-themed product generated coverage by media outlets, reach on social media, and sales of novelty products.
By creating or offering something that is desirable to customers, you also generate something that is desirable to other brands with the same or similar customers. You can leverage your brand, product, connections, social media following, building space, or anything else that may be valuable to other brands to create partnerships that will help you get in front of their customers as well.
Many marketers struggle with sending messages out into the world, but not getting a response back. That’s because many marketing materials are created to have a one-way “conversation” and don’t give the recipients an opportunity to respond or interact.
The Barbie marketing campaign implemented elements that were interactive and allowed people to be a part of experience, and in turn provide marketing on behalf of the movie. Through creative interactive experiences, like a website that allowed fans to create a custom poster or an AI selfie generator, fans were able to interact and create something personal that made them feel invested in the movie... and share on social media.
By including something in your marketing strategy connects with people and makes them feel like they are a part of your brand, it increases the likelihood of them engaging, organically promoting your brand, and becoming brand enthusiasts, which will result in sales.
Inevitably, we will likely see several brands try to replicate the Barbie marketing campaign with a copy-and-paste strategy. But as the saying goes, “often imitated, never duplicated.” For a wildly successful, viral campaign like this, creating an imitation will not be received as well by the public because they have already seen it. The best practice is to take inspiration from this campaign and create something new.
If you are looking for help on a marketing campaign or your marketing strategies, contact the team at Omega to discuss a plan that will work best for you.