She’s a Barbie girl, in a PRy world

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By Maddy Crowther, Senior Account Executive, The Union

Since the summer of 2022, Barbie Pink, now an official Pantone, has slowly been introduced to our social feeds, splashed across billboards and bus stops, and crept onto our supermarket shelves. There is no doubt that the PR and strategic marketing rolled out to promote the Barbie film will go down in advertising history, for generations of marketing newbies to study and praise. They’ve managed to scale up from a film launch to create a cultural moment, and it’s become so big as to be self-fuelling. Brands that have no real connection to the Barbie brand (and no financial skin in the game) have got on board because they want to share in the moment. No link to plastic dolls, no interest in the movie, but seeing a party they want to crash and in the process, adding to the global presence of the film.

Let’s take a deep dive into what the Barbie marketing team did best, with a budget slightly larger than we’re used to seeing, we see what’s possible with big bucks behind a campaign and how unconventional brand pairings can gain mutual benefit. In tandem, we’ll take a look at a smaller budget campaign but equally as influential in the last month amongst UK audiences and in the world of PR marketing. 

So, why don’t we start at the beginning and find out why life in plastic is so fantastic. Introduced to American audiences in 1956, by toy manufacturing company Mattel, Barbie swiftly became a household name across the world. Since then, Mattel has sold over one billion of the leggy plastic dolls, becoming part of many children’s childhoods. Barbie sales haven’t been constant though, with Mattel having to face backlash concerning Barbie’s humanly unattainable physic, diversity in race and body shape, and reliance on plastic. Nonetheless, the Barbie film has given Mattel the opportunity to set things right, satirise the much loved product and revel in its flaws with the help of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling of course. 

Unless you’ve been tucked away at the back of the toy box, it’s been difficult to avoid the Barbie mania surrounding the release of the film this summer. The film landed $155 million from the box office in its first weekend, thanks to the hype and strategic marketing surrounding the launch of the film. With big budget films usually setting aside a hefty budget of around $100 million or more, the Barbie marketing team, and parent company, Mattel, had a lot to play with. So, let’s jump into our pink glitter heels and strut through what the Barbie marketing team did best.

Mattel has used various methods of promotion to capture the gaze of audiences worldwide, utilising specific channels and collaborations to identify with specific tribes:

For the gamer girl Barbie, Mattel partnered with Xbox to create the Barbie Xbox Series S, a zingy pink console set inside a miniature version of the Barbie DreamHouse, which was made available as part of a promotional contest. The collab seeks to encourage Barbie followers to dip into the world of gaming a possible route-in for Mattel to create a new generation of Barbie Xbox games? We’ll find out soon enough. 

For the fashionista Barbie, fashion retailers such as GAP, H&M, ZARA have released themed collections aimed at young teenage to adult audiences. For the disposable income Barbie, you can now purchase a fluffy pink Barbie x Balmain jacket and skirt co-ord for just over £4,000. From high-street to designer, Mattel has ensured all audiences can wear Barbie, a great move from a strategic marketing perspective meaning anyone who buys an item of Barbie clothing becomes a walking, talking billboard for the film and brand. 

For the munchin crunchin Barbie, Mattel has partnered with popcorn brand Proper to deliver a limited edition hot pink pack of sweet popcorn. To add into the mix, the collab is also being used to promote a competition to win an all-inclusive trip to California. A little closer to home, the brands have also set up a pop-up salon in Shoreditch, London. The Proper Salon offered the opportunity to get teeth gems and manicures for free the only drawback being it only ran for a week and it has already closed shop! Nonetheless, this example shows how Barbie not only partnered with a brand, they pushed that brand into a new category. Will we now start seeing popcorn not only in the cinema, and as part of a meal deal, but in retail and beauty environments too? 

These are only a few of the many pink and fabulous PR and Partnership campaigns created by the Barbie marketing team and Mattel to promote the much awaited film. The overall campaign for the film has been heavily focused on partnerships, and utlising the dominance of other brands in particular market segments to spread awareness and likeability, and give (somewhat) relatability to the Barbie brand. It’s clear the Barbie marketing team and Mattel could do so because of the big bucks behind the campaign, with many partnering brands being extremely keen to share the limelight with a potentially multi-award winning film. But this campaign is a marketers dream and the reality is, purse strings are tighter and big opportunities are smaller but there’s still room for creative savviness… 

In the shadow of the Barbie limelight some other innovative PR campaigns have launched, notably Maybelline’s inner city TikTok campaign for their new Sky High mascara keeping things pink here of course.

Maybelline’s Sky High mascara PR campaign, may be giving Kenergy while the rest of the world’s eyes are on Barbie, it does show how big creative ambitions can still be followed through, using innovation and always being savvy with budgets. The Barbie campaign is nothing but spot on, but does express the luxury of having bigger budgets.   

So the truth is yes, imagination, life is your creation when you have a multi-million pound market budget to play with, otherwise you have to think on your tippy toes and outside the toy box. We must acknowledge that bigger budgets lead to larger exposure and more creative freedom.

But regardless, where budgets are big or small, there are a few lessons we can learn from the success of the marketing campaign for Barbie:

  • Firstly, investing in partnerships is a tried and tested method for success: mutual benefits, the opportunity to grow audiences and side step into untapped markets. 
  • Secondly, make a campaign synonymous with something, be it a feeling, a style or a very zingy colour. 
  • Thirdly, teeter on the unusual, be ambitious and keep innovation front of mind. 
  • Fourthly, and only if within budget, get two extremely attractive multi-award-winning actors to headline your campaign.

If you’d like help with creating PR and strategic marketing that gets everyone talking, please do get in touch.