Painting the World Pink: The Brilliance Behind Barbie’s Marketing Strategy

By Maya Baranovsky, Intern

Unless you’ve hidden in a sequestered corner of the world, you’ve heard about what was arguably the most anticipated movie of the summer: Barbie. While the film boasted a star-studded ensemble coupled with blindingly pink sets, what truly distinguished it was the anticipation cultivated through a groundbreaking movie marketing approach – ultimately reaping the rewards at the box office.

The Barbie press tour took audiences on an enchanting journey, showcasing the formidable power of Barbie brand partnerships, the captivating allure of its virality, and the unifying strength of its marketing campaign. But how does a single film live up to the razzle-dazzle of such prolific advertising? Here, we delve into the intricate details that made us all put on our rose-colored glasses for Summer 2023. 

Part I: Partnership marketing:

With a reported $150 million marketing budget (a total which, if true, would surpass the film’s $145 million production budget), Mattel and Warner Bros. Discovery brought Barbie-mania to life. The teams secured over 100 brand partnerships leading up to the movie’s release, ensuring Barbie’s ubiquitous presence in the public square. The true brilliance behind all of these partnerships was the seamless integration of the iconic doll’s essence into a diverse range of products and events. Each deal offered a unique and enticing experience that ignited excitement among fans, both old and new.

One standout collaboration was with Airbnb, offering fans a once-in-a-lifetime chance to rent the life-sized Malibu Dreamhouse for just $60 a night. This opportunity included immersive experiences like makeovers from celebrity hairstylist Jen Atkin, fencing lessons from Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad, and a tour of Columbia Memorial Space Center with pilot and aerospace engineer Jill Meyers. In an additional charitable aspect to the collaboration, Airbnb donated to The Barbie Dream Gap Project, a philanthropic mission that helps girls “reach their full potential.” The donation added depth and purpose to the partnership, encouraging audiences to support meaningful causes while enjoying the magic of the Barbie movie.

Google also joined in the celebration by turning web browsers pink and showering them with sparkles when users searched for movie stars Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, or director Greta Gerwig. This playful interaction added another layer of hype, making the internet a veritable hive of curiosity and anticipation. Furthermore, as searches for “Barbie” on Roku skyrocketed ahead of the film’s release, the streaming platform embraced Barbie’s branding by transforming Roku City into a vibrant, pink paradise. Imagery from the movie graced screensavers, reminding viewers of the imminent premiere, while Barbie billboards and trailers populated the cityscape, creating an unmissable digital experience. 

And that’s just the tip of the plastic iceberg. From food collaborations like Barbie x Pinkberry and Barbie x Coldstone to cosmetics like Barbie x OPI and Barbie x NYX, the movie ingeniously expanded Barbie’s influence into a wide reach of domains.

Part II: Crowd-sourced marketing:

The Barbie movie achieved a seemingly unprecedented level of virality, sparking conversations well beyond the confines of the movie trailer. Since January 2023, nearly half a million articles have been dedicated to Barbie, 86,000 of which were published in the past month alone, according to MuckRack data. Surprisingly, only a mere 1.4% of these articles focused on the Barbie movie trailer, while the vast majority discussed PR initiatives. Not only were Barbie posters and merchandise flooding billboards and Twitter feeds, but fans — likely both knowingly and unknowingly — joined in on the marketing strategy: hashtags, tongue-in-cheek memes, and widespread plans to dress up for the showings all amplified the excitement for the film. The tool, which allowed fans to literally insert themselves into the Barbie world and share their personalized posters with friends and followers, is a great example of this; it was released on April 3 and has been used 13 million times since.

The appeal of the Barbie movie went beyond just watching the film; it was about being part of a cultural moment, an inside joke that only those “in the know” understood. People wanted to be part of the conversations, the memes, and the joy that surrounded the movie. In a world where trends and viral moments come and go quickly, being part of the Barbie phenomenon felt like the latest meme that everyone could be a part of. 

Part III: The Impact

Some critics questioned the risk of this hype, wondering if it was premature to create such fervor before validating the movie’s impact. What was the ultimate goal? Awards? Ticket sales? Despite these questions, the Barbie marketing strategy dared to be different, appealing to both Barbie lovers and skeptics with a masterful trailer slogan: “If you love Barbie, this is for you. If you hate Barbie, this is for you.” Despite the conflicting takes on its cultural impact, it is undeniable that the movie has unified multiple generations and demographics of women due to its unapologetically feminine framework. While it may be impossible for the film to measure up to its hype in a society that often fixates on being contrarian, Barbie made history. Warner Bros. initially estimated a modest $75 million in box office sales for Barbie’s opening weekend. Box office analysts predicted it reached almost $110 million, while the film’s director Greta Gerwig achieved the record for the highest-grossing opening ever recorded for a female director, with a whopping $162 million. While cynics contemplated whether or not this echo chamber of pink mania would fall flat, the numbers speak for themselves: Barbie became the first billion-dollar movie directed solely by a woman. 

As we bid farewell to the summer of Barbie, it is unsurprising that Mattel is eager to raid its entire toybox to captivate audiences once again. The Barbie press tour has set a precedent for a whole new era of cinematic storytelling for Mattel, leveraging the success of the film to create more movies featuring their beloved toy characters. This level of transformative marketing leaves us to ponder whether we have witnessed not only the genesis of a cinematic universe but also the birth of a revolutionary approach to interactive movie advertising. Barbie has set the stage for a myriad of potential blockbusters that will continue to engage audiences and transcend the boundaries of traditional toy-based movies. That raises the question: was the hype isolated to the debut of this hyper-feminized celebration of nostalgic play, or will it sustain itself as the brand reaches to expand its cinematic universe?