‘Come on Barbie, let’s go party’: what brands can learn from the doll’s cinematic success

Small businesses should pay attention to how experiential marketing scored a hot pink marketing win during the Barbenheimer weekend.

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Greta Gerwig’s Barbie has landed in cinemas and has scored a landmark box office record. Just in its opening weekend, the movie recorded $337 million globally, crowning the fuschia infused film as the top performing opening weekend for any female director.

While there’s no denying that the stellar cast led by Margot Robbie, and Gerwig’s incisive and humorous storytelling did a good chunk of the legwork, the movie’s performance can also be owed to the incessant work of the marketing team.

There’s a reason why it feels like we’ve been living in a Barbie world for the past couple of weeks. From London’s iconic London Eye dressing in Barbie’s signature colour to collaborative events with Selfridges featuring human sized toy boxes, the movie’s marketing team has been working overtime.

Whilst not all small marketing teams will have access to a multi-million budget or endless amounts of pink paint, small businesses can still extract valuable marketing lessons from the Barbie effect.

The fuschia plastic key? Pursuing more experiential marketing opportunities.

Experiencing the Barbie world through marketing

Barbie wasn’t just one of the year’s biggest movie premiers. It was also one of the landmark movie events of the year.

Approaching a marketing game plan as an event creates an immersive experience for customers. As a result, they feel connected to the brand and shake off that painful awareness they’re being aggressively marketed to.

In fact, 74% of consumers say that engaging with branded event marketing experiences makes them more likely to buy promoted products. Perhaps more importantly, 98% of consumers create digital or social content at experiences and events.

Whether it was listing a Barbie human sized dream house in Malibu on AirBnB or partnering with Bumble for an exclusive dating event where singles could get advice from Ken, the Mattel marketing team capitalised on experiential marketing to bring the movie outside movie theatres.

There is no denying these experiences worked – the box office numbers say enough.

If we look closer, however, the reason it worked so well is because experiential marketing creates an emotive link between the product and the customer base. It immerses consumers in a unique human experience where they’re treated like people and not just customers.

This prompts authentic organic engagement that can translate into user generated content that can easily go viral.

For instance, think about all the pictures of people posing inside human sized toy boxes in cinemas or in Barbie-themed events that have populated social media feeds. Experiences like these are easily shareable and they foster a sense of being part of something.

As opposed to traditional marketing, Barbie watchers weren’t passive receivers of marketing – they were actively involved in the process, making them feel a sense of expectation and connection to the movie.

Building your own Barbie dream house (on a budget)

Competing studios estimate that Barbie’s marketing coffers were filled with up to $150 million dollars. Without being cynical, no small business marketing will have that amount in their pockets – nor Margot Robbie’s press contact.

The twist here is that experiential marketing is all about having smart approaches rather than deep pockets. Obviously launching a massive global marketing bonanza might be off the table, but there’s still a lot of success you can garner with a smaller stack of money.

Firstly, you can think of creating a focal point for your marketing strategy to build up hype for an event or a launch. If you think about any Barbie marketing you were exposed to in the last couple of weeks, the date July 21 might sound familiar.

Building a sense of anticipation through shared experiences can help keep customers hooked and waiting to come back for the big launch. The basic building blocks of that is just planning ahead to build enough hype.

For example, both the Barbie and the new Indiana Jones movie banked on tapping into the audience’s feelings of nostalgia. Both had generous marketing budgets yet the pink infused film raced ahead in terms of creating a sense of anticipation and excitement.

Secondly, think about what you can do to give customers opportunities to share their own experience with their network. It doesn’t have to be life-sized toy boxes – anything that creates a chance for a quick selfie or video to post on socials will do.

This is possibly one of the cheapest forms of marketing as the actual content production depends on customers and not your own marketing team exactly. User generated content not only creates a sense of trust, but it also lets you organically access larger networks of people you normally wouldn’t be able to reach.

Lastly, do a thorough analysis of your different segments and audiences to understand how you can enhance their experience. Barbie tapped into a sense of nostalgia for those who used to play with the doll as toddlers.

Small marketing teams are #Kenough

As the marketing team of a growing startup or small business, it can be daunting looking at all the massive marketing strides that giants like Mattel make.

However, when you see that huge Barbie billboard featuring an enamoured Ken looking at the pink princess in her plastic Corvette, know that good marketing doesn’t equate to big budgets.

Good (especially experiential) marketing stems from having a robust understanding of what turns customers’ heads and what keeps them engaged.

Marketing campaigns that treat customers as normal people – rather than consumers with money to spend – are much more likely to succeed.

Written by:
Fernanda is a Mexican-born Startups Writer. Specialising in the Marketing & Finding Customers pillar, she’s always on the lookout for how startups can leverage tools, software, and insights to help solidify their brand, retain clients, and find new areas for growth. Having grown up in Mexico City and Abu Dhabi, Fernanda is passionate about how businesses can adapt to new challenges in different economic environments to grow and find creative ways to engage with new and existing customers. With a background in journalism, politics, and international relations, Fernanda has written for a multitude of online magazines about topics ranging from Latin American politics to how businesses can retain staff during a recession. She is currently strengthening her journalistic muscle by studying for a part-time multimedia journalism degree from the National Council of Training for Journalists (NCTJ).

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