Living in a Barbie World: How the Barbie Movie Marketing Team Turned a Doll into a Cultural and Cinematic Phenomenon

The Barbie movie’s PR and marketing team has been busy generating buzz for the film’s mid-July release through one of the most innovative and effective branding campaigns for an already incredibly recognizable label. It’s no surprise that 2023 has been dubbed “The Year of Barbie” as a result. Here are all the ways Mattel is helping us live in a Barbie world to promote Greta Gerwig’s most recent project.

User-Generated Content

Barbie-mania began in April when 24 character posters were released on social platforms, along with the Barbie Selfie Generator, an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that allows fans to make their own Barbie movie posters. Thousands jumped at the chance to use the new filter and kickstarted exposure for the movie all over social media. Even corporate brands joined the trend with tongue-in-cheek adaptations. The TikTok lens extension and official Twitter emoji were introduced quickly thereafter.

Barbie’s Bottom Line: Marketers don’t have to be afraid of AI. It can be used as a tool to improve campaigns and allow for a personalized customer journey.

Brand Partnerships

Since April, Mattel has signed more than 100 brand partnership deals leading up to the premiere. A few favorites include:

These partnerships are intended to engage those who haven’t played with a Barbie in years by meeting them where they are (or at least where their shopping carts are): Millennial- and Gen Z-approved products. Leaning into the nostalgia many feel for their childhood has allowed Mattel to appeal to a wider demographic and reel in viewers of all ages. Barbie has effectively transitioned into a cultural and lifestyle phenomenon that reaches across generations.

Barbie’s Bottom Line: Through these brand partnerships, Barbie has catered to several demographics and effectively expanded the brand’s reach. Marketers can do the same by paying close attention to audience segmentation and investing in brand collaborations.

Experiential Marketing

Just like in the movie, Barbie Land is coming to the real world with dozens of themed experiences throughout the next few months. New York and Chicago have welcomed Malibu Barbie Café pop-ups, while Boston hosted a Barbie boat cruise in late June. A few lucky fans can even book a stay at Barbie’s Malibu Dreamhouse through Airbnb (another collaboration) to live in picture-plastic paradise for a day. And then there’s World of Barbie. The interactive exhibit features yet another Dreamhouse, a full-size Dreamcamper, a Barbie Interstellar Rocket and more. Pulling Barbie out of the box and off the big screen into life-sized activities has made the brand more relatable than ever.

Barbie’s Bottom Line: We might spend a large portion of the day in front of a screen, but don’t underestimate the importance of bringing products and services to life with engaging opportunities during which people can put down their phones and live in the moment.

(Somewhat) Traditional Marketing

While themed roller skates and pop-up cafes have gotten attention for their novelty, the Barbie marketing team has been quietly executing other more traditional PR and advertising tactics:

  • Earned Media: Almost half a million articles have been written about Barbie since January 2023. It’s hard to parse organic from pitched coverage, but no matter how the story reached publication, there’s no denying the Barbie has taken over journalism.
  • TV Commercials: A steady stream of trailers have been released since April 2023, building a palpable sense of anticipation for the film.
  • Out-of-Home Advertising: Billboards might be old school but they’re also effective. The Barbie marketing team has plastered cities with paper and ink ahead of the premiere.

Barbie’s Bottom Line: Don’t forget tried-and-true marketing tactics even as you experiment with newer ones.

Digital Marketing

Leaning into pop culture has allowed the Barbie brand to create a splashy online presence that has seen more than 6 million engagements across social media in the past six months. Active Instagram and TikTok accounts as well as paid display ads have put the Barbie movie on everyone’s radar. The common thread? Culturally relevant and audience-tailored content.

Barbie’s Bottom Line: Personalized and targeted marketing is incredibly important when trying to spread the word about your brand. Remember that quality content is queen.

Social Impact

Given that younger generations have become increasingly conscious of the environmental and social impact the brands they endorse have on the world, it makes sense that Mattel has invested in the Barbie Dream Gap Project since 2018. The initiative awards grants to nonprofits that are working to remove the barriers girls face in achieving their dreams. In anticipation of the Barbie movie’s release, Warner Brothers Discovery has also launched a global empowerment campaign in partnership with Mattel that will benefit humanitarian organization Save the Children. A co-hosted Charity Buzz auction helped raise additional funds with opportunities to buy tickets to premieres of the movie and other exclusive items.

This isn’t to say Barbie has always gotten social impact right. Only in recent years has Mattel introduced Barbies of color or disability. The pervading image of Barbie as a slim blond-haired blue-eyed individual persists even in the movie, while Barbies with “curves” have hit the shelves in relatively low numbers. There is still much work to be done in moving beyond stereotypes of the “perfect” woman. That Mattel has made Barbie a career woman has been helpful to general perceptions about what girls can and can’t aspire to.

Barbie’s Bottom Line: Look at not just your product or service but also your marketing and communications strategies from every angle. Are they making a positive and sustainable impact on the world? If not, now is a good time to change that. Audiences are paying more attention than ever.

Signature Sounds

In addition to amazing branding and partnerships, the Barbie movie is releasing a star-studded soundtrack that is sure to bring in even more fans. ‘Barbie The Album’ features Dua Lipa, Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice, Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Sam Smith, Tame Impala, Dominic Fike and many more notable artists. Fans can even preorder the vinyl album exclusively on its website.

Barbie’s Bottom Line: Associating your brand with big names can attract fans who may not have considered your product or service previously. A signature sound – whether it’s featured on your website or in ads – can further distinguish you from the crowd.

From candles and roller blades to pop-up cafes and a star-studded soundtrack, Barbie has taken advantage of the power of product partnerships and the entire range of marketing strategies this summer. The recent branding push has been so successful that Mattel stocks have skyrocketed over the past month and the movie itself is expected to earn Warner Brother Studios upwards of $90 million over opening weekend. It’s a Barbie world – we’re all just living in it.

By Carleigh Lang