Ahead of the release of the Warner Bros. Barbie film on July 21, marketers for brands like Bloomingdales and Gap, among others, have used Barbie’s legacy intellectual property as a marketing tool to generate buzz not only for the movie but for their various products. As a result, “Barbiecore” — that pink plastic hue that life has adopted recently — is everywhere from Burger King’s pink burger to Ruggable’s limited edition rug.
The abundance of marketing partnerships might feel like oversaturation to some but marketers believe the the various tie-in product launches and marketing campaigns will be a beneficial return of investment between the Mattel brand and its brand partners.
Even so, in light of the exuberant marketing efforts, some question how well this push will be able to boost movie and product partnership sales along with actual Barbie sales. Others wonder if Barbie is setting a new standard for how Hollywood IP movies establish their marketing partnerships or if Barbie is simply an anomaly.
“It does feel oversaturated in the sense that they’ve extended so much into every possible product you can think of,” said Sarah Engel, president of the advertising agency January Digital. “It’s on every shelf, it’s just everywhere.”
There is a belief among marketers and industry analysts that consumers will eventually become accustomed to oversaturated Hollywood IP marketing depending on the size of a brand like Mattel.
Barbie as a brand can be seen as safe to marketers as it can be nostalgic, said Sparks & Honey’s director of cultural strategy Dani Thibodeau, who pointed to Barbie partners such as Airbnb as a positive example since it creates a brand experience for people. Conversely, she noted Progressive Insurance and Lipton as examples that don’t otherwise have connection with the brand and its audience.
“Not every brand has a right to play in this space to the Barbie movie,” she said. “Not every brand’s cultural moment is [their] cultural moment.”
Likewise, Engel highlighted Mattel’s licensing and collaborations as a driver of marketers’ willingness to partner with the brand. It’s a unique attribute to Barbie that might be applicable to every movie. But brands have catered messaging to consumers who both love — and hate — Barbie.
“The marketing plan had to have every possible touchpoint and this was not going to be a situation where you’re thinking, ‘we’re just going to go about this the traditional way and we’re going to expect people to watch the trailer when we put it out’,” said Engel.
According to the data intelligence platform Snack Content, the number of mentions Barbie got on TikTok increased 191% from 80% on YouTube within the last year, and videos using the hashtag #Barbie have been viewed more than 9 billion times on TikTok. Throughout the first half of this year, TikTok, YouTube and Instagram Reels used the #Barbie hashtag 145% more than they did all of last year.
Aside from increased usage, the social media push has likely increased interest in the film. Based on UTA IQ’s Quarterly Report, which examined data, research, and digital strategy, two-thirds of Gen Zers and millennials who expressed interest in seeing Barbie in theaters said its memes were among the reasons.
Engel also said influencer partnerships are a valuable strategy for content marketing as consumers have watched a movie due to a post by an influencer and or digital creator. One example she cited was fashion influencer Alix Earle (5.5 million followers) as she posted her content on the day of the world premiere in Los Angeles, which now has over 2.5 million viewers.
As marketers noted, when other legacy intellectual properties had films released earlier this year, such as Super Mario Bros, Nike, and Hot Cheetos, a marketing push was done but not to the degree of Barbie. The other brands may not been able to do so beyond a normal push because those brands may be more selective about which partners it collaborates with and licenses out to. Influencer marketing platform Grin’s vice president of marketing, Ali Fazal, said Nintendo missed the mark by not attempting to do the same, but it may be risky since brands want a return on investment and not all brands are willing to risk joining a trend or influencer campaign that could damage its image.
“There is this degree of extreme control that they want to have over the brand and in the current climate, it’s just not effective,” said Ali of Nintendo. “The way that people consume media is so dispersed and diffused now that keeping really strong control over your brand image and your brand legacy just makes it really hard for enough people to hear about your work.”
According to Eunice Shin, head of practices at Prophet, leveraging a brand’s intellectual property may pose a risk, and she thinks the over-saturation of Barbie’s marketing campaign is going to cause a major change in the marketing industry, depending on whether studios are willing to take it. She believes brands will start looking at this and will want to do their own version of the mega marketing push based on the box office results and social media impressions for Barbie.
“They’re picking these different areas because they realize, ‘hey, if we’re here, we’re reaching audiences with these unique brand collaborations and we’re going to be able to reach the masses’,” she said. “They’re reaching the masses and that’s the way to do it in today’s world.”
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