Welcome to the Barbie Multiverse of Marketing

Valerie Hoke image
Valerie Hoke
July 20, 2023

It’s sparkly. It’s everywhere. And most importantly, it’s pink. 

It’s marketing for the Barbie movie. 

From the day it was originally announced that Greta Gerwig would co-write and direct a movie adaptation of the Barbie empire starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, the internet has been buzzing with a healthy mix of both excitement and curiosity about what it would entail.

But recently, the buzz has skyrocketed to another dimension, transcending any sort of promotional push for a single movie in recent memory. (Seriously, some of the biggest cinematic releases of the past decade — think Star Wars, Avengers, Avatar — have nothing on this.) 

Here’s our rundown of what has set this marketing effort apart and why it’s been so successful. 

The Hard Launch 

We all remember where we were during the movie poster drop heard ‘round the world. 

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Featuring each of the film’s stars in a glittery burst with fun taglines like “This Barbie is a doctor,” and “He’s just Ken,” the instantly recognizable format was an immediate hit and source of meme-making magic. I have to imagine that the mass reproduction of the poster featuring anything and everything is exactly what the marketing team wanted to happen. 

From casual fans to Twitter stans, everyone joined in on the fun. Even our own friend/office demon Chomby had his moment of stardom. 

The Real-World Activations 

Perhaps the single most impressive component of the movie’s campaign is the way that it has seamlessly integrated the digital and physical worlds. 

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Sure, it’s become somewhat routine for movies and TV shows to debut a real-world activation that fans can visit for a unique experience, but not every media property has a physical space as iconic as the Barbie Dreamhouse attached to its name. 

Toward the end of June, a life-size Barbie Dreamhouse essentially popped up overnight in Malibu, marking the true magnum opus of the movie’s promotional run. From the sheen of the iconic pink plastic to the “KEN” letters floating in the pool (inviting even more meme-ification), the installation’s message was clear: Your childhood memories of Barbie’s world are about to come to life. 

The Merch and Collabs 

Speaking of things coming to life, if you’ve ever dreamed of owning a bright pink version of—well, basically anything—you’re in luck: There’s probably a limited edition Barbie-branded variant of it by now. 

Here’s a recipe for a Barbie-approved best day ever: Take your Barbie Impala skates for a spin, then come home to relax and play some games on your Barbie Xbox console. Speaking of home, fill yours with a Barbie candle, Barbie toothbrush set, and Barbie rug for some pink flair. And don’t forget to put on your Barbie Crocs and head out to treat yourself to some Barbie froyo!

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My personal favorite collaboration, due to the sheer brilliance of the crossover, is easily the Barbie Dreamhouse’s appearance in a Progressive Insurance commercial. Progressive’s recurring cast of characters (shoutout to fellow girlboss Flo) don’t even have to say the name “Barbie” — we know exactly what’s happening, and we can’t help but smile. 


Bonus: The “Barbenheimer” Discourse 

I’d be remiss not to mention another important layer of the Barbie story: the fact that it opens in theaters on the same day as Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated Oppenheimer, a film about the physicist behind the atomic bomb. It’s a pairing that you can’t help but giggle at: the bubbly world of Barbie and the dark doom of nuclear weaponry. A little something for everybody! 

The luckiest marketing team in the world is the one tasked with promoting Oppenheimer, because the Barbie team (and the internet at large) basically did their job for them. Every time a new Barbie promo has dropped, it has immediately been met with mentions of Oppenheimer, creating just as much buzz for the latter film. 

For months now, you haven’t been able to log on to Twitter without seeing jokes about the harsh duality of the two movies (and subsequently, the two “types” of people who will gravitate toward each one). 

The stars of both movies have even dipped into the conversation, with the careful caveat that the matchup is not a rivalry, but instead something to celebrate. 

Why it Works 

The success of all of these efforts isn’t by chance: It’s a massive case study in the power of knowing your audience and what they crave. Barbie dolls have been around long enough to have multiple generations of people with strong memories of the brand, and the movie and its corresponding campaign have harnessed that nostalgia to make it a can’t-miss media moment. 

Barbie toys are still around and popular among today’s kids, but it’s clear that this movie and its “Barbie meets the real world” storyline is geared toward the sweet spot of young adults who are grappling with a similar experience of facing the harsh realities of growing up while still clinging on to the more innocent memories of their youth. And what better way to remind them of that youth than to invite them to pose for a photo in a real-world version of their beloved childhood toys? 

I personally can’t wait to watch the box office numbers roll in and see how the “Barbenheimer” opening weekend plays out. Which movie are you seeing first?