In a Barbie world: the branding story of The Barbie Movie

Ed Farley

Warner Bros’ Greta Gerwig-directed BARBIE has become a cultural phenomenon. Aside from the obvious reasons behind Barbie’s iconic branding that has permeated many generations since its 1950’s debut, the film’s roll out has not only seen traction through its content from film stills, fashion choices and soundtrack, but notably for its marketing strategy away from cinematic means. Impact’s Ed Farley explores.

Mattel’s iconic Barbie brand, fuelled by Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling and Greta Gerwig’s star power in the new film, has been leased to numerous other brands for collaborations.  To name a few, these include:

  • Primark 
  • Aldo (shoe company)
  • Kitsch (silk pillowcase company)
  • Xbox
  • Homesick Candles

It is prominent that these aren’t child-based products. A child wouldn’t want a candle, nor would they want a silk pillowcase. The collaborations speak volumes to one thing: that Barbie is a spending vehicle- not just for the kids-in fact arguably, more than ever, it is anything but. When one considers the Barbie movie is a PG-13 (UK 12A) rating, the film covering gender dynamics, sexual innuendo and corporate jargon- the answer might be obvious.

The film has made steps to reference itself throughout the years to actively include every barbie fan- even if they weren’t one for years. The film references itself in a way that asks viewers to believe in the story crafted, with a belief, as discovered later, being a large determinant of branding success. The film’s new dynamic approach to illustrating not just Barbie, but the mythos around it, has captured people in ways that the doll alone hasn’t. Below I’ll investigate elements that have made this possible.  

With adults engaging with the film made to include them and engaging with the branding, they too are believing in the “barbie world” (famously coined by aqua and now repurposed in the Nicki Minaj /Ice Spice collaborations). In fact, the “Barbie Land” setting of the film has been featured in architectural digest, with a video of Margot Robbie (dressed as Barbie) running down the mechanics and vision behind the set design.

After burning a Barbie candle, you can play your Barbie Xbox- right before you rest your head on a Barbie silk pillowcase, in your Barbie branded Primark pyjamas. The implication? You too can turn your home into the barbie dream as seen in the in the Barbie Land. Audiences don’t only engage in the film through cultural discourse as provided by Gerwig, but through an artistically spearheaded lifestyle that aligns viewers even closer to the brand that the film simultaneously uplifts and critiques in the feature film. 

the brand creates a feeling of immersion that has its own real-life world building

The film seems to have grappled world-building really well, the practise in making the conditions characters are living believable to audiences. Additionally, having multiple lifestyle products for consumers to engage in themselves with the ‘barbie world’ mentality, the brand creates a feeling of immersion that has its own real-life world building- a feeling of immersion people might only have experienced before in things like themes parks. 

Through the overt branding and world building, Mattel and Barbie, on some level, take viewers behind the scenes of its ideologies. This is something polar to what many are experiencing within the film and television space. Notably, some fans argue that brands such as Marvel are becoming overexposed, with their intellectual property being spread too thin over too much content to consume. The key with Barbie is that in its camp nature, commercial overexposure works because the high-octave branding and numerous splashes of pink are in Barbie’s DNA, and that the products associated with the film don’t interfere with the film’s reception to consumers itself. 

With conscious immersion, the film also takes swings at laughing at the corporate side of Mattel, and the conditions characters and viewers will find themselves in.  The trailer sees Barbie running out of the Mattel main offices, with a corporate boss played by Will Farrell in despair over Barbie’s presence in the real world. From this scene and the pink-adorned ones we’ve seen in trailers, we see that Barbie enjoys the nice things, but she does so consciously. If she didn’t there wouldn’t be a need for her to run away, or for the whole plot of the film.

The viewers and their habits are by implication alike to Barbie.  Buying leased material, people aren’t just becoming marketing cannon fodder, they are doing it in a way that is also self-aware and context-driven. Loving fun things can only go so far. Investigated by Kaleigh Moore in Banknotes- consumers want to engage with branding if there is a level of honesty and transparency. Barbie is a celebrity brand, and with her face on it, there’s a responsibility that she stands for something, much like the need for other celebrity brands to do so. 

just another example of the importance to include the film goer within the ideologies of the film

Taking these elements into account, consumers aren’t stupid, parting with their cash and buying into a brand, they make decisions more intentionally than ever, especially if they are film buffs engaging in cultural discourses. With Barbie making jokes, acknowledging the world-building the film is creating, consumers can part with their money easier because they know exactly what the film- and by extension the messaging of the overall branding- means.  This is just another example of the importance to include the film goer within the ideologies of the film- not only when they are watching it but consuming it on other mediums. The fun and the responsibility of the brand  gives them agency to consciously consume, and the film is one of the first that is very openly transparent in how that branding works.

Greta Gerwig has made the film successful before it’s even hit theatres

According to the New York Times, Mattel is working on 45 other titles around its products- namely a Daniel Kaluuya-lead Barney movie which he deems to have ‘A24’ vibes.  Perhaps Barbie is a case study to learn from, that the way to go to include adults within these films (hence increasing ticket sales) is to dissect what makes the product the way it is- and how it can be repurposed around the context of the times they are living in. 

Greta Gerwig has made the film successful before it’s even hit theatres. A large part of that is because of the nuanced ways it has captured people’s imagination. It is a reminder that something can only be a cultural phenomenon if the culture of the people allows it to be so in the first place.  It will be interesting to see culturally-aware-corporate material develop on screen, where IP’s are already big business. From Barbie, its seems like it’s been masterfully crafted by the hands of Gerwig in the film, and marketing teams outside of the movie theatre. If others can also follow suit in such a way, is a wholly different conversation. 

Ed Farley

Featured image courtesy of  Meiying Ng via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

In-article image courtesy of Ed Farley. Permission to use granted to Impact.

In-article video 1 courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures via Youtube. No changes were made to this video.

In-article video 2 courtesy of Architectural Digest via Youtube. No changes were made to this video.

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