Over a billion toys sold. Endless licensing agreements. Monster marketing budget. 64 years in the making.
And all it took was a 2 hour feature film to drive the message home.
A lot has been said about Barbie, and it’s truly a masterclass in marketing.
But in this article we’ll go a step further and unpack five key lessons you can leverage to add a little pink into your own brand.
1. Don’t make ads around content. Make content.
In today’s TikTok driven world, it’s entertainment that captures attention. The best YouTube channels, Podcasts, Instagram accounts and TikTokers aren’t shoving products down your throat, they’re creating entertainment.
Pure and simple.
Now, if your entertainment just so happens to achieve some of your core marketing goals, then that’s a win.
But a consistent focus on creating stuff people actually want to watch is a pathway to commercial success.
The team at Mattel clearly unlocked this. Turning the Barbie franchise into a film is a bold bet. It seems obvious in retrospect, but it’s a huge risk for the corporation. What if the movie sucks? What if the message doesn’t land? What if it’s a box office slump? There was a real non-zero chance that this film could have damaged the Barbie brand. But therein lies the opportunity. It’s a bold bet for a reason. And clearly it’s paid off.
Let’s not forget the facts here. The film is a 2 hour ad that people paid 25 bucks to watch. What if you approached your next campaign in the same way? How do I create something that my audience would actually pay to consume?
You would probably do things very differently. And that’s the whole idea. Create entertainment for the audience’s purpose, not ads for your own purpose.
2. Master the art of storytelling
Barbie has been the subject of great debate in our time. Plastic pollution. Feminism. Body image issues. There’s been empirical studies done into the impact of Barbie on society. Mattel knows Barbie isn’t for everyone.
And they were actually bold enough to call this out in the film’s trailer. “If you love Barbie, this is the movie for you. If you hate Barbie, this is the movie for you”.
Acknowledging the haters is just the first step to humanising the corporate machine of Barbie.
The film goes to great lengths to unpack the real story behind Barbie. And by the end of it, the audience is clear on two things – they love Barbie and they perfectly understand “you can be anything”.
The lesson here is to take a creative approach to sharing the deep beliefs and views behind your brand. If you build your story, clearly articulate your position and views in the world, you can overcome some of your harshest critics.
3. Leverage partnerships
A lot has been said about the scale of Barbie’s marketing budget. It’s probably enormous.
But the true genius behind the campaign is the way Barbie has leveraged the marketing budgets of others. Dream homes with AirBnB. Pink burgers from Burger King. Custom hardware from Xbox. Even Google turns pink for Barbie.
The Mattel team loosened the reins of what a ‘normal’ partnership or licensing agreement looks like, lowering their royalties to achieve scale with over 100 brands. This gave their partners a unique opportunity to join the conversation, to capitalise on the media buzz and get people talking.
They’ve effectively crowdsourced their marketing AND the brands paid them to do it. What does your version of a unique partnership look like?
4. You can’t sell a secret
OK, here’s an obvious one.
But let’s spell it out.
Mattel & WB invested more in marketing than they did on production.
The film cost $145 million to make. The marketing spend to promote the movie alone is $150 million.
Let’s repeat that so it is perfectly clear. They spent more on marketing it, than they did on making it.
And it’s paying off. So far, they’ve grossed over $1B in box office revenue. Not to mention the revenue they’ll make on licensing, and of course, product sales.
The lesson? Even if you have the best product in the world, incredible brand awareness and great distribution, you need to invest in marketing as the glue to hold it all together.
The team at Mattel went a step further and clearly made marketing the centre of the business.
5. Have conviction
Clearly the team at Mattel and Warner Brothers were convinced this was going to be a smash hit.
It would be impossible to pull off this launch (let alone the results) without it. If you don’t believe your product or brand is going to become number one and dominate your industry, you’ve already lost.
Our final thoughts are around content delivery.
Not only is it important to create great content, but having a strategy to deliver that content to your target audience is equally important.