Bet on Barbie
Written by Josh Moore
Longtime toy industry giant Mattel decided to take a gamble. This gamble came in the form of a movie released this summer: Barbie. Its release was a bold move, and while the movie had an all-star cast, a message that resonated with millions of fans, and good direction from a cinematic point of view, an aggressive strategic marketing campaign was an important reason why Barbie reached the historic billion dollar mark.
In a campaign, there are three main media categories a brand should hit; paid, earned, and owned. While all are individually important, the best marketing campaigns don’t narrow their focus to just one. Think of the “Share a Coke” campaign that took over the world. Coke owned the cans that they put popular names on, Coke paid for television and digital space to spread the message, and Coke earned the word of mouth influence that blew the campaign up. The strategy for Barbie was the same; combine three types of media to create a campaign to make the film unavoidable.
In the realm of owned media, cast members went on talk shows wearing costumes from the movie. Leaked pictures from the set went viral online. Trailers were released more than what is typical for an upcoming movie. All of these examples helped generate buzz and publicity.
Through paid media, Mattel made hundreds of brand deals ranging from clothing lines to an unappealing looking burger from Burger King. The influx in Barbie media led to jokes online, a popular one being a fighter jet colored pink. An actual Barbie dreamhouse was built and put on AirBnB. Even for the main demographic of people who didn’t actually want to eat the Barbie burger: it was still a win for the advertisers because it got clicks online and reminded consumers again and again of the upcoming release.
Finally, was the idea of earned attention. The Barbie phenomenon became widespread on social media. Every new piece of information blew up on TikTok. Every brand deal left people clamoring for more, for no reason other than to talk about it to show that they were in on the trend. People everywhere wore pink to the screenings of the movie to take part in a cultural moment.
While this massive marketing effort could backfire, it didn’t because the marketers understood the audience. Barbie is an overkill brand, the toy’s personality is supposed to be over the top, and the campaign tapped into the cultural sentiment of the brand. Barbie is nostalgic without being extremely relevant now. It is old enough to be a part of people aged 15 to 30’s childhood but in the digital world, it isn’t as talked about as an actual toy anymore, so when we saw the pink ads all over our feeds, we were reminded of our childhood in a refreshing way.
Overall, the gamble not only paid off, but gave a masterclass in marketing and strategic communications. If there’s one thing that the communications industry learned, it’s to always bet on Barbie.