Beyond Nostalgia: How an Original Approach Catapulted the Barbie Movie’s Record-Breaking Success

by Debra Andrews | August 23, 2023

It was fall 2022. As I pressed the purchase button on a pair of $100 neon pink patent leather pumps, I cringed at the thought that I’d wear them only once. But I HAD to have them. They were the perfect complement to my dress: A glow-in-the-dark special with neon pink, green, and blue swirls.

Still, as I headed to a meeting with a new Marketri prospect in my new outfit, I wondered if the look was a bit too much.

Of course, I’m joking. I was actually heading off to the Philippines to attend the 10th anniversary celebration for Scrubbed, one of Marketri’s valued clients. And since the party theme was “The Future is Bright,” my glowing neon outfit was the perfect choice.

Where I went wrong was assuming I’d never have another occasion to wear my over-the-top ensemble. Less than a year later, I found another perfect use case for the shoes: Barbie.

Yes, I’m one of the millions of moviegoers dressed to the bubblegum-pink nines to see what the buzz was all about. Many of my fellow moviegoers gazed appreciatively at my feet as I walked to the popcorn stand, and I was equally impressed with their cobbled-together Barbie-themed attire.

Why such enthusiasm for a movie about a 64-year-old doll, especially at a time when most of us prefer to stream media at home? How did this movie drive $1.2 billion in box office sales?

I know what you’re thinking: “She’s about to attribute the Barbie movie’s standout success to great marketing.” That would be the obvious go-to answer since a) I’m a marketer and b) I frequently tease out the marketing element of topical events like Taylor Swift’s Era’s Tour and the Tour de France.

And let’s not forget, the promotion budget for Barbie cost more than the movie itself. It’s been incredible to see Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling decked out in all-to-familiar Barbie and Ken gear during their TV interviews. Not to mention the hilarious trailer showing Stereotypical Barbie going from “the best day ever” to “FLAT FEET” <Squeal, scream, gasp>.

And yet, fellow marketers, you may be surprised at this observation: It’s not marketing that’s fueling the Barbie movie’s success. Sure, I’ll agree that brand-appropriate, timely, clever, and consistent promotion always helps. But there’s something much deeper going on here.

Am I going to chalk up the Barbie hype to pure nostalgia? Well, the movie did strike that powerful emotional chord. Outlook magazine interviewed people who fondly spoke of their memories playing with Barbies with siblings and friends. And I recently dug through boxes in my mother’s basement to find my Barbie Dreamhouse, only to discover I had transformed all my Stereotypical Barbies into Weird Barbies. (I must have wanted to become a hair stylist specializing in short, spikey, pixie cuts.) So, for sure, the movie made me reminisce about my wonderful childhood and share some laughs with my mom about the state of my dolls.

But a longing for nostalgia isn’t what created this summer movie phenomenon. The reason Barbie is set to stand as the highest-grossing movie of the year, driving people to theaters in droves for the first time since the pandemic hit, is very simple: It’s original.

Greta Gerwig did an incredible job co-writing a screenplay that was very different than anything I can recall in the past decade. And that proves it pays to take calculated risks.

Why shouldn’t I wear my neon pink shoes to a casual dinner? (Ok, maybe not to a client meeting.) And why shouldn’t B2B marketing campaigns stand out from the crowd?

At a time when ChatGPT and generative AI are starting to make too many things sound the same, Barbie has reinspired me to approach the process of planning marketing campaigns using a blank slate and just let my creativity fill the page. It’s important to learn from data-driven insights and ensure you target the right messaging to the right audience. But within that framework, there’s lots of whitespace to fill with originality.

Now, “Come on Barbie Let’s Go Party!”

Interested in learning more? Schedule a call with me, CEO Deb Andrews to learn how Marketri empowers B2B companies to achieve predictable, profitable growth.

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