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26 July, 2023

Barbie and Mattel: Villain or Marketing Genius?

Barbie, the most anticipated movie of this summer, has finally hit the theaters with its official release last week. Starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, the movie has been praised for its witty and subversive take on the iconic doll and her world. However, there is another twist that has caught everyone’s attention: the way Mattel, the maker of Barbie, has embraced the movie’s villainous portrayal of Ken and used it as both a comment on the Patriarchy, and a marketing opportunity that plays to a new generation. 

The Marketing Machine

It all started with a Barbie poster generator, which allowed people to create their own version of the poster using their selfies or even photos of their pets. Then came the brand collaborations – from apparel, cosmetics, roller blades, to even hamburgers. Flash Coffee Hong Kong introduced Barbie cups at their stores and transformed one of its Causeway Bay branches into a fully Barbie-themed pop-up. Every imaginable brand launched a Barbie collection with a touch of hot pink sparkles. 

And it didn’t stop there. A full album consisting of 17 tracks, titled “Barbie The Movie,” was released before the movie’s premiere. The featured artists were as impressive as the cast of the film, including Dua Lipa, Lizzo, Nicki Minaj, Billie Eilish, and Ryan Gosling. Additionally, a real-life Barbie’s Dream House was available for reservation on Airbnb. When Googling for ‘Barbie’, ‘Margot Robbie’, ‘Ryan Gosling’, and ‘Greta Gerwig’, people noticed that the results page sparkled and turned pink. 

One wonders how much budget is needed for a promotional campaign as extensive as this. Rumors suggest that the total marketing budget of the movie, which cost US $145 million to make, could round up to US $100 million. But the true genius of Mattel’s plan lay not just in its scope, but in its careful crafting of a narrative that spoke directly to the hearts of its target audience, whether they hate or love Barbie. By partnering with a visionary director like Greta Gerwig, known for her feminist sensibilities, the company ensured that the movie would convey a message of empowerment and relevance to contemporary viewers. This deliberate effort to recontextualize Barbie for a new generation paid off handsomely, as the movie’s success demonstrates.

Beyond the Hype

While the glitz and glamour of the Barbie marketing blitz undoubtedly captured headlines, it served a larger purpose: to distract from the ongoing controversy surrounding the Barbie brand. Critics have long accused the doll of perpetuating gender stereotypes and unrealistic beauty standards, casting a shadow over Mattel.

It’s important to note that the success of the Barbie movie and marketing campaign should not be measured solely by its box office performance or social media buzz. It’s worth examining whether the movie’s messaging aligns with the values of inclusivity and diversity that Mattel has touted in recent years. While the film features a diverse cast and celebrates feminism, it still reinforces harmful gender stereotypes and beauty standards. In the cold light of day when we turn the lights on, Barbie is still…Barbie.