How Barbie Beat Oppenheimer: A Marketing Showdown and Lessons for Business Owners

The hype surrounding the two highly anticipated blockbusters, Barbie and Oppenheimer was immense. Both hitting theatres on the same date, meant a media rivalry was born. As the public scrambled to pick a side, the marketing teams behind each film thrived off this tsunami of attention, yet only one could come out of the box office on top.

But how, was it luck or tactic? Barbie’s marketing team worked tirelessly to drain their $150 million marketing budget with efficiency. They spoke to their audience in creative and unexpected ways to captivate people’s attention, ‘breadcrumbing’ eager viewers in the run-up to the release.

You can probably agree that everywhere you’ve turned this summer, Barbie was there. Be it in the form of bright pink Barbie Crocs or A Barbie Airbnb in Malibu, there was something to speak to every single consumer, or type of Barbie!

In this blog post, we’ll delve into how the Marketing and Social Media teams behind Barbie generated massive attention to outshine Oppenheimer and what business owners can learn from their infamous methods.

The Unlikely Rivalry

Before we dive into the marketing strategies employed, it’s essential to understand the context of this rivalry. “Oppenheimer,” a Christopher Nolan-directed biographical drama, was expected to be a heavyweight contender in the film industry, promising a thought-provoking exploration of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s life and the development of the atomic bomb. On the other hand, “Barbie” was a commercialised attempt to revive the iconic doll’s brand and break away from its childlike stereotype.

So, how did a seemingly lighthearted, toy-inspired film outshine a critically acclaimed director’s historical masterpiece?

Think Pink: Barbie’s Marketing Strategy

The creative team behind Barbie’s marketing definitely followed the mantra: go big or go home! There was no page left unturned within their strategy and any deal, stunt, or product you could think of Barbie’s name was on it!

If you’ve seen Barbie, which if you haven’t by now I assume you’ve been living in a plastic toy box, you know the overall message of the film was about finding your own way and becoming your own version of Barbie. Hence, some of the marketing moves may have seemed random and unfitting with Barbie’s stereotype, like a Bubble-gum Pink Xbox or the Burger King Barbie Meal, yet they resonated with the film.

Once again, this is the ‘breadcrumbing’ method that lured so many to watch the film and piece it all together.

It would be fair to say that the marketing for this film was so all-out, it has almost redefined the name Barbie to be less associated with the iconic doll itself,  but the movie, the brand, and, of course, the colour pink.

Oppenheimer unfortunately didn’t get the memo. With very minimal social media presence and a few ominous trailers, Barbie’s Birkenstocks walked all over Oppenheimer. If it wasn’t for the media frenzy of ‘Barbenheimer’ that birthed memes, fan art, and unofficial merchandise, Oppenheimer’s strategy of relying on their big-name cast and director for attention would have left the film in the dark.

It came as no surprise when Barbie broke box office records for the most commercially successful film by a female director, as for months it was at the forefront of everyone’s mind whether you liked it or not. The marketing campaigns for Barbie seemed almost endless, and, unlike the colour pink, there is no shortage of lessons that can be taken away from the unexpected phenomenon that was Barbie.

Dolling Up Your Business: From Barbieland to Boardroom

Know Your Audience

“Barbie” succeeded by knowing its audience inside out. The marketing team realised that for this film, with its mature themes and suggestive language, they needed to reach beyond their traditional target demographic of children and speak on the nostalgia factor to engage parents and adults who had grown up with the iconic doll.

They consistently pushed the idea of breaking away from the brand’s stereotypes through unexpected marketing campaigns for the film, as the movie aimed to reinvent the meaning of Barbie in a renewed feminist light.

This dual targeting strategy was a stroke of genius, widening the film’s appeal beyond its primary demographic and encouraging any one person to feel they may relate to the film.

Business Lesson: Similarly, business owners should thoroughly understand their target audience’s needs, desires, and pain points. By connecting with consumers on a deeper, more personal level, you can develop marketing campaigns that resonate and create lasting impressions. Think carefully about where you spend your budget and if it will connect with the right audience, after all, not everyone has $150 million to blow on marketing- so be realistic!

Embrace Social Media

The marketing and social media teams behind Barbie leveraged social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter to create a massive buzz around the film. They capitalised on the shareability of its content with interactive campaigns, AI filters and quizzes, teaser trailers, and playing into the Barbenheimer hype. This generated organic, user-driven marketing, amplifying the film’s reach and rallying a sense of community and excitement.

Business Lesson: Business owners should be harnessing the power of social media. Building a strong online presence through consistent posting, engaging with audiences, and user-generated content campaigns can help create a loyal customer base without the need for hefty marketing expenditures. This could be in the form of how-to videos, infographics, or entertaining and informative blog posts. Encourage your audience to share their experiences with your products or services and offer incentives to increase engagement.

Adapt to Trends

Barbie demonstrated its marketing team’s ability to adapt to current trends. By collaborating with influencers and famed singers, they created many viral challenges and trends for the public to jump on. The movie became a part of the cultural conversation, reaching a younger audience that may not have initially been interested in the doll.

Business Lesson: Stay agile and adapt to current trends in your industry. Partner with influencers or trendsetters within your niche to reach a wider and more diverse audience.

Consistency is Key but Make Sure You Lock in Perfection

From the first teaser of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling rollerblading down Venice Beach to the movie’s release, Barbie, in typical Barbie fashion, remained the centre of attention everywhere. Their marketing team were reluctant to let the film slip from people’s mind all summer, and they invested every cent of their budget to ensure they caught every eye! So much so that you couldn’t even Google “Margot Robbie” in late July without your screen being filled with pink sparkles.

Every tiny detail was so well-thought out and not a single element was overlooked. This attentiveness was imperative to Barbie’s strategy, everything had to be perfect! This reliability built trust and heightened FOMO among the audience, people felt like they had to see what this film was all about.

Business Lesson: Not everything you do in life will be as perfect as Barbie’s hair, and that’s okay! But, you can ensure careful thought is put behind every marketing move your business makes and stay consistent with what your brand stands for. Inconsistency can confuse potential customers. Maintain a unified brand image across all marketing channels and make sure it sparkles before giving it the green light.

You Are Kenough, You Can Do It Too!

The Barbenheimer War has been one for film history, it saw the blending of community imagination to pit two drastically differentiating films against each other. However, the marketing magic this worked did wonders for the attention both films attracted.

Barbie beating Oppenheimer at the box office was a remarkable feat driven by savvy marketing strategies and a deep understanding of its audience. If Oppenheimer’s release date hadn’t coincided with Barbies, many wouldn’t have given it any notice. Yet we can’t say the same for Barbie.

Business owners can learn valuable lessons from this unexpected triumph. By knowing your audience, leveraging social media, creating shareable content, adapting to trends, and maintaining consistency, your business can generate attention and engagement, even with a budget of a fraction of the size.

With the right approach, your business can rise above expectations and capture the hearts of your target audience.

Think: What Would Barbie Do?

Just go for it!

Piece of Cake are here to help!

Overwhelmed with where to start on your businesses’ marketing strategy? The team behind Barbie were definitely extravagant, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. If you’re feeling stuck, book a Marketing Strategy session with Piece of Cake Marketing and unlock your recipe for success!

To schedule a session or learn more email or call Emma on 07799626332.

Or even drop us a follow on Instagram to get some creative social media inspiration, @pocakemarketing.

We hope to see you there!