Everyone’s been talking about it – the Barbie movie. Love it or hate it, there’s no question that it has had a positive impact on the film industry.
So, what’s all the fuss about? What did Barbie’s marketing team do that others could not. Why has there been a decline in the amount of people that go to the cinema? What did Barbie’s marketing do that made people swamp movie theatres across the globe? And why is marketing so important during economically difficult times?
Cinemas Gathering Dust
Why has there been a decline in people going to the movies? Is the allure of overpriced popcorn and watered down fizzy drinks not enough anymore?
Let’s go back to when the pandemic hit. We not only couldn’t physically go to the cinema anymore, but many of us discovered new streaming platforms and updated our TVs and surround sound to get the at home cinema experience!
The box office took an obvious hit, not only from a lack of viewers, but also from a halt in movie production.
Then, just as things started getting back to normal we were hit by the knock on economic effects of the war in Ukraine. Now, if we really want to splash out and go to the pictures, we’re only going for something amazing! Blockbuster action movies like Maverick or stand out visual effects like in Avatar. Otherwise, we might as well be watching that romcom on our telly at home.
However, as anticipated as some of these big name movies may have been, their ratings have plummeted, possibly due to poor scripts and drawn out storylines.
Cinemas have been clawing customers back with tactics such as discounted tickets during school holidays.
Barbie. Barbie? Who the Flip is Barbie?
Barbie, that doll that encourages gender stereotypes? We’d say that actually, yes. At the start anyway.
Introduced in 1959, Barbie was the first doll that wasn’t a baby doll and was immediately hit with criticism for showing too much ‘figure’. Soon after, Barbie’s friends and Ken were introduced but it took until 1980 before an African-American Barbie was released.
In the 90’s, Barbie was criticised for not having realistic proportions and giving young girls unrealistic body image ideals. Mattel responded by giving Barbie smaller breasts and a wider waist in 2000. But it still took until 2016 for a petite, tall and curvy Barbie to join the gang.
Despite the nostalgia, it doesn’t look like Barbie has been setting the standard for women and girls everywhere. A bit late to the body positivity movement.
Not Your Typical Barbie Movie
To turn things around, Mattel began developing the ambitious cinematic venture of rejuvenating the Barbie brand, with the release of a Barbie movie on 21st July 2023.
This was an opportunity to show the world a fresh take on the iconic doll, tackling tricky subjects head on, such as Barbie’s place in the modern world and what kind of role model the doll is.
Throw in a compelling storyline, A-list actors and modern themes that resonate with today’s audiences and run much deeper than anyone would initially expect, and you have the makings of a successful movie. But what’s the point of a great movie if no one knows about it?
The very first trailer that was released for the new Barbie movie built a sense of intrigue and curiosity. No one really knew what to expect from what at first seemed a light-hearted movie, due to the serious ‘Dawn of Man’ from Space Odyssey undertones introduced in the trailer.
Director, Greta Gerwig, said ‘I love Kubrick, and his entire filmography is just staggering, but also, there’s something funny to me that he’s also the paragon of a certain type of masculine filmmaking,’
Where Does Marketing Come Into It?
The release of Barbie shattered all expectations and is on its way to become one of the most successful movies of all time. Its unexpected success comes down to a perfect marketing storm.
Barbie’s marketing campaign embraced all of the distinctive personality of the character, resonating with long-time fans and newbies alike.
For example, when the Barbie selfie generator hit social media, celebrities, business and everyone in between engaged and wanted to be a part of the Barbie movement.
The iconic Barbie pink became a heavy part of the branding early on and was embraced immediately as a girl-power embodiment.
Small elements of the movie were released to build a sense of curiosity and a buzz soon started to build as more detail was offered. Even those who didn’t like Barbie were intrigued.
But marketing Barbie hasn’t been cheap. In fact, Barbie’s marketing has been estimated at around $150 million, around the same as the entire movie production budget. Yet, in a time when everyone is holding on to their money, this mega budget had the space to flourish in a usually condensed market. And it’s paying off, with a record-breaking debut and box office takings of 9 times the production budget (as of September 2023)
The Knock-On Effect: Organic Marketing
Big brands soon jumped on board, especially fashion brands, and even those not affiliated with the movie were happy to rep Barbie. It would be difficult for anyone to say they hadn’t heard about the new Barbie movie coming out soon.
Crocs released a Barbie Croc which sold out immediately. There is even a Barbie dream house available to rent on Airbnb. All of this pushed the brands further and fueled the marketing campaign.
Released the same weekend, yet at the other end of the movie spectrum, was scientific biopic, Oppenheimer. At such a stark contrast to the light and fluffy Barbie movie, fanart soon appeared of the mashup ‘Barbenheimer’ and immediately went viral. Was the timing of both movies and the resulting PR dream planned or a very happy coincidence? Both movies experienced incredible success at a time when cinemas were struggling to fill seats.
Once Behind the Times, Barbie Turned Things Around
The marketing team behind the Barbie movie managed to perfectly encapsulate the movie’s ethos, a balance between nostalgia and the new and fresh. (You can read some cringey stories of when marketing went wrong too!)
In what has been a very difficult few years for most, the Barbie movie offered not only an escapism to childhood and empowerment of what it means to be a female in today’s world, but it surprised many with Greta Gerwig’s contradiction to the usual Barbie stereotype which offered powerful insights about female existence, resonating with women around the world..
Barbie’s marketing wasn’t just about selling movie tickets, it was about building the brand, leading the way for body positivity, women’s rights and equality. From social media campaigns to merchandise, this was a truly omnichannel marketing strategy, which has been so incredibly successful that Barbie creators, Mattel, have a whole line up of other toy movies now in the works.
Did you watch the Barbie movie? Did marketing sway your decision to watch it? Has its message left a lasting impression on you? It’s certainly given us some ideas for future marketing campaigns!