Ewan Larkin
Jul 23, 2023

'Barbie' isn't afraid to air Mattel’s previous missteps

Everything marketing and comms pros need to know about Greta Gerwig’s highly-anticipated film. Warning: Light spoilers (and lots of pink) ahead.

(L-R) Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie (Photo credit: Getty Images)
(L-R) Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Whether you’re planning to see the movie or not, it’s been virtually impossible to avoid Barbie over the past few months. In search of new clothes? Look no further than Gap’s Barbie line! Need a new tube of toothpaste? Moon Oral Beauty’s pink collection has you covered!

Mattel, the company behind the Barbie toy, signed licensing deals with more than 100 brands ahead of the feature’s debut on July 21, receiving ubiquitous praise from marketers

Now, the film is finally here, begging the question: Does it live up to the hype? 

In short: Yes. 

Barbie is witty, surprisingly existential and packed full of great performances, including Margot Robbie as the “stereotypical Barbie” and her Ken equivalent Ryan Gosling, who showcases real charm as a himbo searching for purpose. 

But, despite Barbie’s many strengths, it’s sometimes hard to escape the feeling that, at its core, this is a brand project. When Robbie’s Barbie is forced to confront her destiny in the real world, Kate McKinnon’s “Weird Barbie” tells her bluntly, “Blame Mattel, they made the rules.”

To its credit, Mattel is willing to roll with the punches, at least to a certain degree. The company’s CEO, played by Will Ferrell, is a bonehead only concerned with bumping his bottom line and his C-suite is incompetent and devoid of any diversity. 

Barbie doesn’t shy away from airing Mattel’s previous missteps either, highlighting controversial and discontinued products such as Pregnant MidgeSugar Daddy Ken (yes, you’re reading that correctly) and Growing Up Skipper. There are even references to Mattel founder Ruth Handler’s legal woes.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand why Mattel is willing to play the punch line. Barbie is expected to generate somewhere between $95 million to $110 million in the U.S. over the weekend. And, to the surprise of absolutely no-one, more Mattel film projects are on the way

According to a New Yorker report, Mattel already has 45 films in development based around its massive portfolio of toy brands, including Hot Wheels, Uno, Barney and Thomas & Friends. Look out: the next Marvel Cinematic Universe could be unfolding before our very eyes. 

Gerwig’s latest project is both social commentary and gleeful, laugh-out-loud fun. But, perhaps more than anything, it’s a resounding win for the Mattel brand. 


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