Chris Daniels
Jul 16, 2023

The summer of ‘Barbie’: Marketers have nothing but love for film’s ubiquitous promo blitz

The color pink is everywhere a week before the film debuts in US theatres.

Margot Robbie last week at Barbie's London premiere. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
Margot Robbie last week at Barbie's London premiere. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Astronaut. Dolphin trainer. Computer engineer. Barbie has held just about every job possible. 

Get ready to add global box office superstar to the list, when Barbie opens in theaters on July 21. 

Projections from June had Barbie opening in North America with a solid $55 million in ticket sales. New opening weekend estimates have the movie raking in a blockbuster $93 million, which is 69% more than the initial forecast. 

“I think the numbers are going to be through the roof,” says Adam Smith, president of UEG Worldwide, an entertainment, sports and lifestyle agency owned by Edelman. “It’s a true four-quadrant film that young people and adults and both sexes will want to see, from kids and parents to couples.”

Part of the reason why is a promotional blitz that is turning the Greta Gerwig-directed Barbie into the cultural event of the summer.

Mattel, the toy company behind the Barbie toy, signed licensing deals with more than 100 brands. From Airbnb listing a Barbie Malibu DreamHouse, Maserati creating an ultra-limited-edition Maserati Grecale in bubble-gum pink to a Barbie Bubble Mint Whitening Toothpaste from oral care brand Moon, Barbie is everywhere. 

“A lot of the intrigue and interest in the movie hasn’t been from the actual trailer, which many people have only seen a little bit of,” says Melanie Klausner, EVP for New York at Red Havas, noting the trailer doesn’t reveal much of the plot, anyway. “Rather, it has been from all of the brand partnerships.” 

“The partnerships have created mass appeal, because they range from high-end to low-end brands to those targeting kids to millennials and older adults,” agrees Smith. “It is something we haven’t seen a film in recent years be able to do.” 

He applauds Progressive Insurance’s campaign about its “special, secret client,” who just happens to have a pink home in Malibu. Progressive’s spokespeople, Flo and Jamie, are making the media rounds, including landing photo coverage in USA Today alongside celebrities at the Los Angeles premiere of Barbie

“You wouldn’t imagine an insurance company being able to tap into Barbie,” says Smith. “But what they did was really smart.” 

While the number of partnerships might seem like overkill, experts point out that’s what Barbie is all about.  

“Barbie is overkill, she is meant to be over the top, and I think Greta [Gerwig] and Mattel are playing into that,” says Jared Weiss, founder and president of entertainment marketing agency starpower, which is a part of Real Chemistry. “I wouldn’t be surprised if more brand partnerships promoting Barbie come up as a result of the success. In fact, I am sure there are more coming down the pike.” 

All things Barbie has spilled over into earned media coverage. The New York Times published “a stop-motion journey” exploring how Barbie’s Dreamhouse has been a mirror of America’s social, political and economic changes over the decades. 

The popularity of the color pink is getting coverage from every angle, from paint to designer outfits, boosted by fun fashions sported by Robbie and the rest of the cast at press events. The sartorial style even has its own buzzword: Barbiecore, which has amassed more than 505 million views on TikTok. 

The film has even landed high-end architectural coverage.

“I love the AD Barbie Dreamhouse Tour where Margot Robbie describes the inspiring and incredible intricacies of the set design, that the Barbies float down from the floor above versus using the stairs because that’s how they’re played with,” says Meg Jannott, head of design at agency Lafayette American. “From Barbie World to the worldwide press tour, Margot Robbie and team have brought so many iconic Barbie outfits to life — the dresses, the shoes, the accessories.” 

“Mattel has done a great job of driving amazing feature stories for the Barbie brand,” agrees Jen Teitler, EVP of consumer marketing at M Booth. “Obviously, the movie has been the hook for coverage, but they’ve been able to tell a lot of different, really interesting stories about Barbie.”

M Booth is riding the coattails of Barbiemania by landing pitches for clients in categories like home décor and fashion “that either tie into the color pink or the Barbie lifestyle, even though they’re not doing anything directly with the brand,” says Teitler. 

The Barbie blitz is also introducing a popular narrative that would have been rejected in the past given the doll’s impossible body standards: Barbie as a feminist icon. 

While Robbie looks a lot like the traditional toy doll, a message in the movie is that every woman, regardless of what they look like, is Barbie. Columnists are pointing out that Barbie owned her own home, had jobs that many women were shut out from in the real world, wasn’t dependent on a man — Ken, of course — and is starting “a new era as a feminist icon.” 

Gerwig and Robbie have encouraged this line of thought, including in joint interviews where Gerwig has said, “It most certainly is a feminist film” and “feminist in a way that includes everyone, a rising tide lifts all tides version of it.” 

The Barbie movie has also seemingly done the impossible in avoiding being politicized

“I think that that will come,” says Weiss. “I think there will be a few bumps, but I think the positivity of Barbie, which is what we all need right now, will outweigh any hate directed at it.” 

Backers of the film have also managed to turn a potential rival into an ally. Many observers questioned whether Barbie’s box office fortunes would be dented by Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated Oppenheimer, which opens the same weekend. While memes initially pitted the two movies against each other, fans turned the tables and posted art, memes and mashups that celebrate both films. The movement is known as “Barbenheimer.” 

One mashup, a parody of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” album cover, features Robbie’s Barbie and Cillian Murphy’s Oppenheimer shaking hands. It has been viewed on Twitter more than 7.1 million times and retweeted more than 18,000 times. TikTok influencers have posted about seeing both movies on opening day, like @onlyonedan, whose viewing day plan has more than 2.5 million views. AMC Theatres also revealed that more than 20,000 customers have purchased tickets to see Barbie and Oppenheimer on the same day.

But the digital and social media team at Warner Bros., the studio behind Barbie, deserve credit. A June 30 post on the official @barbiethemovie Twitter account that features Gerwig and Robbie holding up tickets to see Oppenheimer on opening day has 19.1 million views. The message: “Why not see both films?”

“The marketing has been brilliant,” says Teitler. “It’s actually hard to decipher on social between what the marketing team has been making proactively happen versus what consumers have led in terms of the cultural conversations around Barbie.”


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