Anyone who has been online or left their house in the last few months is aware of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie. With an estimated (but unconfirmed) $150 million spent on promotions, it is near impossible to avoid the hype around the film–on top of the standard movie trailers and social media posts, there are pink burgers, shoes, clothing, roller blades, gaming consoles and even a Barbie Dreamhouse that you can actually stay in. Even Google has joined in the fun. Search for terms related to Barbie and the film, and the interface takes on a pink colour scheme with a sparkling fireworks effect.
The hype has definitely paid off. Last week, the movie passed $1 billion at the global box office, making it the first female-directed movie to do so. So how did they do it?
The Promotions You Might Expect - But Bigger (And Pinker)
The Barbie marketing campaign makes use of some of the promotional basics you would expect from a movie release like this. There are billboards, character posts, social media campaigns, and movie trailers; however, as with everything, Barbie takes these elements and makes them so much more impactful and interactive.
Character posters are a common form used to promote movies and shows on social media. Each Barbie poster highlighted a different Barbie or Ken and provided more context to their role in the film.
It then went a step further when they introduced the AI-based Barbie selfie generator. By uploading a selfie to the platform, users could create their own unique character poster and put themselves in Barbie Land. These posters were then shared across social media platforms, encouraging more people to create their posters.
The first trailer for Barbie was released at the end of 2022 and played before Avatar: Way of the Water. Unexpectedly, this teaser parodied 2001: A Space Odyssey, a move that paid off with an increase in social media buzz. The teaser now has nearly 14 million views on YouTube and over 11,000 comments.
In April, the first full trailer of the film was released. It has since garnered more than 66 million views on YouTube. The trailer opened with a shot of Barbie’s trademark fluffy pink heels as she stepped out of them with a perfectly arched foot. This moment itself went viral, both for the shout-out to the toy doll and also with a large number of users wondering about the practicality of filming the shot.
The trailer also revealed a somewhat unusual tagline for the film - “If you love Barbie, this movie is for you; if you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.” Josh Goldstein, president of global marketing at Warner Bros., told Variety that the tagline was created in collaboration with Greta Gerwig and aimed to highlight that the film was for a wider audience than just fans of the doll and brand. They also recognised that it was a chance to reimagine what Barbie represents.
During filming, there were some scenes filmed in public places that could not be completely blocked off. One such scene was filmed in Santa Monica, and images and short videos of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in fluorescent spandex costumes and bright yellow roller blades quickly went viral on social media. Prior to this, the only glimpse into the film had been a photo of Barbie in her iconic pink Corvette released at CinemaCon. The photos and the video, which featured Barbie punching a bystander while Ken shrieked, gave the audience its first real look into the vibe of the film and kickstarted the hype online.
Collaborations with brands who have similar target audiences or focuses are not uncommon for film promotion; however, the sheer number of brands that have collaborated on the Barbie campaign makes it noteworthy–officially, Mattel has partnered with 165 other brands. The collaborations have included apparel, luggage, homewares, furniture, and even an entire house.
Internationally, there are dozens of official (and some unofficial) collaborations with Barbie.
(Image source: Impala Skate)
Impala Skate have released a range of bright yellow roller blades, as worn by Barbie and Ken in the film and made viral by the Santa Monica set photos. There are also matching protective padding bundles available for both kids and adults.
BÉIS, the luggage brand started by actor Shay Mitchell, has released a luggage line in the signature bright pink shade in collaboration with the film. There is very little Barbie branding on the suitcases, the main tie-in coming from the colour.
At Primark, you can get everything from outfits seen in the film to shoes, notebooks, lunchboxes and jewellery. The range spans all age groups and genders, aiming to allow everyone to “unleash their inner Barbie and Ken this summer”, according to Primark’s Director of Licensing, Sarah Jackson.
US-based custom furniture brand Joybird has released a collaboration that urges users to “Take a page out of the Barbie™ style book…in every room of your very own Dreamhouse”. The colours, fabrics and textures aim to help the user bring the wonder of the Barbie Dreamhouse into their own home.
Even gaming giant Xbox is in on the trend. Through Xbox and the Microsoft Rewards program, fans could win the custom-remodelled Barbie DreamHouse Xbox Series S console. On top of this, Forza Horizon 5 players will be able to play using the vehicles used by Barbie and Ken in the film.
Perhaps one of the biggest and most talked about collaborations is with Airbnb. An oceanfront mansion in Malibu has been restyled in the signature pink and has been listed as rented out by Ken “while Barbie is away.” Guests were encouraged to take part in some of Ken’s favourite activities and even raid Barbie’s closet. Two lucky guests were invited to each bring a guest on either 21 or 22 July 2023 for a one-night stay, free of charge.
Looking closer to home, there are a number of Australian brands that have joined in on the hype.
(Image source: Grill’d)
The burger chain Grill’d, has released the Barbie Burger Bundle, which includes a burger with a pink bun and pink mayo, a raspberry lemonade, chips and pink mayo dipping sauce. Relish loyalty members also have the opportunity to win a Gold Coast trip, including a jet ski tour and theme park entries, a Sydney shopping spree and spa day, or a spa package and nature tour in Daylesford, Victoria. To enter the draw, you just need to answer a short quiz about which Barbie is most like you.
Cotton On has positioned itself as Australia’s go-to fashion retailer for Barbie clothing. Their range includes shirts, pants, and shoes. Although some of the items feature the Barbie logo, there are also a number of options in the collection that fit the overall aesthetic of the film rather than being specifically branded.
Aussie footwear brand Rollie has also released a collaboration that includes Barbie-branded shoes, shirts, hoodies, sweatpants, hats, socks and a scarf. Colours include the signature Barbie pink, white, black and a tan colour dubbed ‘Oatmeal’, while there are both men's and women's fits available.
Mermade Hair has launched a Barbie kit collection that is “about having fun with your hair to spark your inner confidence.” Both of the kits available come with a styling tool, head scarf, silver and pink hair gems and pink no-crease clips in the signature Barbie pink.
Luxury candle brand Glasshouse released a limited edition Barbie Dreamhouse candle, the scent of which aims to “transport you back to the thrill of unwrapping a brand new Barbie™ doll.” The candle has fruity, floral notes and is available for $59.95.
(Image source: Glasshouse Fragrances)
One of the most unexpected and unconventional but most successful collaborations is the unofficial partnership between Barbie and Christopher Nolan’s biopic Oppenheimer.
When it was announced that the films would be released on the same day, originally, it was thought that there would be little conflict between movie-goers choosing which film to support. Barbie at first appeared to be a bright, colourful movie targeted towards a younger, female, and family audience, while Oppenheimer’s dark shoots and premise, exploring the life of the creator of the atomic bomb, appealed to an older, more ‘serious’ audience.
It didn’t take long for social media jokes to start circulating. One of the most popular was the “Oppenheimer partner/Barbie partner” comparison, where one-half of the couple dresses darker and broodier, while the other is in bright colours with a broad smile, a play on the popular romance trope of “golden retriever/black cat” pairings.
People started planning double feature opening weekends, with debate on the correct order to see the films quickly heating up on social media. Outfits and costumes soon became hot topics, with one woman even going viral for her custom-made jumpsuit, which started black for Oppenheimer and then, with one pull, changed into a pink ensemble ready for the Barbie viewing.
The promotion of a double feature led to an audience overlap that might not have occurred otherwise and gave both films significant boosts on their opening weekend. Barbie smashed expectations, with original projections suggesting around $75 million at the US box office. It became the biggest opening of the year, with a global box office of $337 million. Oppenheimer came in with $137 million globally, against expectations of $50 million.
The Cinema Experience
The hype doesn’t end once you’ve booked your tickets. It has become standard practice for fans to wear pink outfits to the cinema or to dress up as one of the Barbies highlighted in the character posters.
Once you get to the cinema, there are popups where you can take your photo in your very own Barbie box, limited edition Barbie collectors cups, or at AMC theatres in the US, you can get a bundle that includes popcorn, a Barbie doll, and a model of the iconic Corvette Barbie drives in the film.
Event Cinemas has embraced the trend too, with a special Barbie range of burgers, drinks and desserts available for Gold Class patrons. There are also limited edition collectors cups available at the candy bar.
The End Result
With more than $1 billion at the global box office and several new records to Greta Gerwig’s name, there is no denying that the marketing campaign for Barbie has been a complete success. The film has become a cultural phenomenon and has helped position Barbie as a brand for a wider audience than just the children the dolls have previously attracted.
Since the pandemic outbreak, there has been a shift in moviegoer behaviour, with a larger number of people choosing to watch new releases at home through video-on-demand services. Nevertheless, the Barbie marketing campaign has highlighted the unique benefits of seeing films on the big screen with a larger audience and has the potential to help usher people back into cinemas.