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Barbie's Blueprint: Five Lessons for Modern Brand Marketing

Picture of slightly crumpled, bright pink paper

Mattel's Barbie movie campaign was groundbreaking in its reach and execution. The effective strategy involved leveraging over 100 brand partnerships, ensuring that Barbie's presence was felt across multiple touchpoints and demographics. But that’s not all. The Barbie movie created initiatives that were engaging, playful and encouraged lots of user-generated content on a global scale and across cultures. From traditional toy stores to your favourite fast-food chains, Barbie became omnipresent. This strong presence made it impossible for consumers to ignore, creating an organic curiosity about the upcoming movie and a possible fear of missing out on social media, while encouraging many brands and consumers alike to participate in the Barbie hype. In order to evolve with time, the Barbie brand has reinvented itself to be portrayed in a more authentic and diverse way, connecting her image closer to the current reality and culture we now live in. Let’s take a closer look at the five key learnings from Barbie marketing that any brand can apply to modern-day marketing.

1. Create a multicultural and omnichannel approach

The Barbie movie campaign was not just about selling dolls; it was about redefining the brand in the modern day and age across demographics and cultures. Toy manufacturer Mattel diversified its Barbie partnerships, collaborating with giants like Xbox in gaming, retailers like Forever 21, furniture company Joybird, Airbnb and Pinkberry’s pink Barbie swirl ice cream, among many others. Another fun example was perhaps the unique initiative at Burger King Brazil, introducing a burger with pink sauce and “Ken potatoes”. All of this demonstrates the immense potential for brands to creatively cater to diverse audiences without deviating from their core identity. The omnipresence of Barbie, from Instagram's pink food recipes to the Barbiecore aesthetic trend globally, is a testament to this multipronged approach.

2. Focus on multisensory experiences

There are few brands that are well known for intentionally and successfully appealing to the five senses of consumers but Mastercard, for example, is one of them. And now Barbie can be added to the mix. As I discuss in Brand Love, using multisensory brand experiences to engage your consumers’ senses holistically and create memorable moments is powerful. The key is to find natural ways to stimulate senses, so you can create experiences in an omnichannel approach. The Barbie movie’s marketing campaigns engage multiple senses by showing up across industries to stimulate the sense of smell and taste through food partnerships, the sense of sound through the “Hi Barbie” quote on social media and the rest of the senses like vision and touch through the immersive brand experience that allows fans to step into a life-sized Barbie box. Ask yourself, what does your brand sound, smell or taste like? Embrace the power of sound by creating your own sonic identity that you can build on over time. Sound has an effect on behaviour and can help you appeal to a customer’s emotions if done right. And if that wasn’t enough, the Barbie Experience continues post-launch of the movie by introducing the “Barbie You Can Be Anything: The Experience" across museums in the United States, where anyone can be a part of and celebrate the history and legacy of Barbie.

3. Elevate brand recognition online and offline

Every single time that customers interact with your brand online and offline, they should feel like they are in the same brand ecosystem across all touchpoints and interconnected channels. The Barbie box experience (or brand activation) is a good example of connecting the dots between offline and online efforts. One cannot overlook the immense role of social media in this campaign. It wasn’t just about the ads (though the pink canvas billboard is a strong reminder of the power of colour as it relates to branding a campaign); it was about the experience. When people shared their unique Barbie experiences, whether it was by dressing in pink for a movie date or posting about the iconic pink Barbie box, the brand was organically shared and promoted. This offers a blueprint: it's not about shouting the loudest on social media but making your brand an integral part of the consumer's life and story.

4. Tap into nostalgia marketing

Nostalgia is a smart move to connect with customers in an emotional way. By tapping into this, Mattel managed to bring back happy times, forming a connection that resonated across generations. Nostalgia entails sentimental longing for the past that brings about happy personal associations tied to a period, place or product, as is the case with Barbie. These feelings are typically personal and meaningful, and bringing these back through marketing initiatives can create deep and memorable connections with your customers. Looking at the billion-dollar toy industry, Barbie is not alone. The LEGO Group has been notorious for creating feelings of nostalgia and appealing to adults as much as to younger children, including demographics like Millennials and Gen Z. Meaningful memories like this stick with us and bring back feelings of warmth as we reminisce and recapture them as adults.

5. Use AI to humanize and personalize a new product

To further encourage conversation on social media, the Barbie Selfie Generator Tool was released, which converts a user’s photo into a Barbie movie poster. This led to positive conversations, mentions and eventually went viral with 13M users since it was released in April 2023. Why does this matter? The AI site welcomes you to “Barbie Land” and creates a relatable experience where you can choose to either be Barbie or Ken. More than that, though, the tool adds the means of personalization (and another social media experience!). Consumers have come to expect this level of personalization from brands they interact with. Companies that understand what it means to humanize and personalize their brand build positive and lasting relationships with consumers.

The Barbie movie campaign highlights the importance of understanding one’s brand, of evolving with the times and of ensuring a consistent presence across all customer touchpoints. Collaborative ventures, if chosen wisely, can amplify the brand's essence, making it more relevant and memorable. Lastly, building narratives that integrate seamlessly into consumers' lives, especially via social media, guarantees lasting impressions.

Mattel’s Barbie movie campaign offers a masterclass in brand revitalization, teaching us the potential of collaboration through omnichannel experiences, the magic of nostalgia and appealing to the five senses and the undeniable power of social media engagement, including AI-driven personalization.

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