The summer of 2023 will forever go down as the summer of pink and Barbie core, thanks to the release of the long-awaited Barbie Movie directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. The film, which became the highest-grossing live-action movie directed by a female with a box office surpassing $1 Billion worldwide, literally painted the world pink - so much so that there was a literal shortage of pink paint. While there's no denying that almost everyone in the world has at least heard of Barbie at some point in their lives, the iconic doll wasn't exactly in its prime before the release of her box office smash movie. So, how was Barbie able to make the biggest comeback of all time? A massive part of its success is attributed to Warner Bro's ingenious marketing strategy - and we're breaking it down today so you can steal some gems to apply to your brand.
The tagline used in Barbie's movie trailer perfectly summarizes its marketing strategy: If you love Barbie, this movie is for you; if you hate Barbie, this movie is for you. The genius of the marketing campaign behind the Barbie movie's success is their clear understanding of sentiments around the Barbie brand BBM (Before the Barbie Movie). While Barbie is a nostalgic staple of many people's childhoods (and even adulthoods), the movie's marketing campaign showcased the brand's understanding of the not-so-positive sentiments many also associated with the doll. As a result, Warner Bros. strategically played into what people both love AND hate about Barbie (in a non-trolling way) to build intrigue around the film - even among people who wouldn't consider themselves Barbie fans. In addition, rather than dictating the messaging around the film, they embraced the narratives and organic trends that fans created around the movie. The marketing strategy reflected the evolution of the Barbie brand and showcased that the brand wasn't tone-deaf or afraid to make fun of itself. As a result, by the time the movie hit theatres, it felt like the entire (social media) world was clamoring to see it - as proven by its $182 million opening weekend at the box office.
The Warner Bros. team garnered what felt like constant viral moments around the Barbie movie, solidifying the Barbie brand as a pop culture phenomenon in the process. Here's a peek into some ways they did it:
Following the release of the first movie trailer, Barbie announced a selfie generator developed in partnership with PhotoRoom, an AI-based photo editing app. Initially, the first selfies Barbie cast members were the first to post their AI-generated selfies, including Issa Rae and America Ferrara.
The viral trend went on to garner more than 13 million users, including brands and celebrities - and just like that, Barbie was taking over all of our social media feeds. The success of this campaign proves that user-generated content remains a crucial tactic in engaging a social media audience by providing them a way to say something about themselves online while turning them into your brand ambassadors.
It's one thing to have a massive legacy brand - but imagine if every brand you could think of across multiple industries was promoting your brand simultaneously. That's the magic of Barbie's strategic partnerships during the movie's rollout.
The Barbie movie campaign kicked off a massive licensing craze like we've never seen before, which included more than 100 brand partnerships that included brands across every industry, from clothing to cookware and even fast food. These brand partnerships and licensed product releases were heavily promoted across social media to latch on to the brewing Barbie movie craze, which only increased the film's promotion in the process.
The strategic partnerships continued beyond brand licensing. In the lead-up to the Barbie movie coming out in theatres, the brand also did several interviews and press on various YouTube channels - some of which you wouldn't expect. While Barbie's approach on short-form social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok focused on immersing us in the visuals and nostalgia of Barbie, their YouTube strategy focused on sharing more of the history of Barbie, her cultural impact, and the intention behind the film; giving a nice balance of strategic and targeted messaging for the dynamic audience they were trying to reach.
This approach speaks to the importance of viewing YouTube not only as a social media platform, but as a platform in which there are a lot of earned media opportunities for brands of all sizes.
The Warner Bros team also heavily leaned into nostalgia marketing to promote the Barbie movie.
Nostalgia marketing is a promotional strategy that aims to evoke positive feelings or associations with the past. (source: indeed.com)
Warner Bros was committed to bringing many people's childhood dreams to life, as they made an apparent effort to bring us into Barbie's world in preparation for the film. Exhibit A: The real-life Barbie dreamhouse created in Malibu that was available for bookings on Air B'n'B.
Barbiecore (a trend in which superfans use aesthetics closely related to the doll, such as her signature pink) was already brewing as a popular trend on social media. Margot Robbie's style leaned into this phenomenon throughout her press run as she wore replicated looks from Barbie's archive - which naturally bolstered Barbiecore to new heights and garnered massive organic marketing for the brand.
While Warner Bros pulled out all the stops to promote the Barbie movie, the film studio behind the breakout hit movie also benefitted from organic social media trends spearheaded by fans.
When the official movie trailer was posted on social media, fans didn't take long to turn an audio clip featuring the phrase 'Hi Ken' into a social media sensation that garnered over 350,000 recreations.
Similarly, fans played into the Big Ken energy with a 'My Ken' trend featuring people celebrating the 'Kens' in their lives, garnering more than 69.8M posts on TikTok alone.
Of all the trends, the most bizarre yet popular had to be Barbenheimer. Once fans got wind that Barbie and Oppenheimer - two films that couldn't be any more different - were coming out on the same weekend, creative fans made some of the most interesting and ironic memes to celebrate. The trend became a cultural phenomenon of its own - not to mention it made for impeccable fan-driven cross-promotion.
The Barbie movie revived hope that going to the theater is still alive - not only because it's a great movie but because it had even better marketing.
Ultimately, the magic of the marketing behind the Barbie movie is a deep understanding of audience sentiment, engaging your audience through emotion and two-way dialogue, strategic collaboration, and an openness to adapt to your audience's unexpected interpretations or reimaginings. The 'lightening in a bottle' impact of Barbie's movie marketing proves that with the right strategy and intentions, KENything is possible.