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5 Marketing Lessons from Barbie the Movie

marketing lessons from barbie the movie

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard the hype. Barbie swooped into theaters July 21, 2023 and in two short weeks has earned an astounding $774 million in global revenue. I had the pleasure of taking my daughter to see the film last week, and from the moment I began searching for movie times, I knew the Barbie movie would be filled with marketing lessons. As one of Mattel’s most recognizable brands around the world, they have done a remarkable job marketing Barbie for more than 6 decades. Here are 5 marketing lessons from the Barbie movie any company can incorporate at their own scale.

Lesson #1 Brand consistently

When launching a product or service, having a consistent go to market plan is everything. With the deep marketing budget allocated to Barbie, it’s no wonder that its marketing touched nearly everything you can imagine from a pink bedazzled and animated Google screen when you search for movie times to special filters on major social media outlets and a redesigned pink WB logo before the film started. I’ve even seen a guy riding a tiny pink Barbie scooter around my neighborhood and I’d bet money he was paid to do it.

What this means for you: While this level of marketing is beyond most budgets, there are still ways to ensure a seamless branding experience for your customers. List out every element involved in your upcoming product launch. Think of unique and creative ways to get your product in front of your target market. Whether it’s email and webinar graphics or retargeting ads and event banners, consider each marketing element and ensure a unified and consistent brand experience with every piece. No detail is too small.

Lesson #2 Honor the past

Every company starts somewhere and invariably the branding and messaging evolve. But having respect for the past is part of maturing. After all, things that once went out of fashion have a way of coming back into style eventually. The Barbie movie honored this by highlighting past outfits with dignity rather than disdain. In addition, Ruth Handler, the original creator of Barbie, plays a significant role in the movie, helping to reconnect the brand back to its roots.

What this means for you: A simple way for companies to do this today is to highlight past logos, products, packaging, and branding elements as a throwback. Social media is the perfect forum to do this, but you can also honor the past on your website and other marketing materials. This will create a fond sense of nostalgia and establish how your brand has grown over time.

Lesson #3 Partner with the best

If no man is an island, then no company is either. Partnerships and alliances, especially in marketing, help companies reach other audiences and tap into new markets. Barbie was filled with cameos from music artists, like Dua Lipa, to wrestling stars, like John Cena. Even the soundtrack had a custom song written and performed by Billie Eilish. Not to mention all the product placement. (I see you GM!) The movie made sure that every demographic – young, old, and middle-aged – would have something to connect with and make them smile.

What this means for you: For your marketing, make sure that you’ve explored potential channel partners. This may come in the form of influencers on social media who can plug your product or service. Influencer marketing is not just for soft drinks on Instagram. It can be done with strong thought leaders in your industry via LinkedIn. Consider a podcast guest whose existing audience could benefit from whatever it is you’re offering and then get double-exposure by appearing on their podcast. Don’t forget to cross promote!

Lesson #4 Own your mistakes

Being able to acknowledge your missteps isn’t always easy, but doing it with humor is definitely the way to go. Barbie was keenly aware of this and made sure to roast themselves about some of their past missteps, like a Skipper doll whose bust size grew bigger or their ill-conceived Sugar Daddy Ken doll. The tongue in cheek ribbing humanized the brand and brought the audience in on the joke. If a company like Mattel can own their past blunders, there’s something for the rest of us to learn from it.

What this means for you: Much like honoring the past, owning your mistakes is an opportunity to shape the narrative around your company. From a marketing standpoint this means you’ve listened to your customer and pivoted accordingly. One of the most obvious ways you can do this is to answer every online review you receive even when the feedback isn’t stellar. Always thank the person for taking the time to write the review and validate whatever issue they bring up. You might have the opportunity to educate them on something they didn’t know or take the honest feedback to improve your offering. And remember, adding in some humor will win you extra brownie points!

Lesson #5 Listen to your customer

The ultimate marketing lesson for any company is to stay open to change by listening to your customer. In fact, one of the overarching themes of the Barbie movie was the evolution of the brand as a symbol of independence for young women. When Barbie was first created decades ago, she represented a departure from traditional female roles. Today, however, many view her as problematic and even contributing to the issues that women currently grapple with. The movie unflinchingly admits this and then asks really important questions about Barbie’s future without giving us the answers. Instead we, the audience, get to write that future.

What this means for you: Marketing is full of ambiguity and uncertainty, which means the most important thing you can do is listen to your customer. They will tell you where to go. Your brand and product decisions will inevitably evolve, so make sure you have someone on your marketing team whose finger is on the pulse of what your customers need and want. You should be regularly dialoguing with them. One very simple way to do this (that will also get you some great content) is to interview your customers about their experience with your company. Send them a list of 5-7 questions in advance and then record them answering the questions. Not only will you create video and/or written content from their own words, but then you can take that feedback to continually improve your offering.

What marketing lessons did you take away from Barbie the movie?


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