July 21st, 2023

Is the Barbie marketing strategy too much? No, it isn’t.

Is the Barbie marketing strategy too much? No, it isn’t.
Lesley Landry
Lesley Landry
AMD, Client Strategy

Hey, have you heard about the new small budget, independent film coming out today? I think it’s about Barbie?  

…yes, we know you have. Everyone has.

Are you questioning if all of the marketing is just too much?  

…yes, we know you are. Everyone is.

We’ve seen extensive brand collaboration for everything from shoes with Aldo to suitcases with Beis Travel to the similarly iconic Hot Wheels. We’ve seen the strength of the Barbie brand on display with hot pink billboards with nothing more than a small “July 21st” on it. There’s been the Barbie Dreamhouse Airbnb, a feature in Architectural Digest, the Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge on HGTV, and experiential pop-ups all over the country. This doesn’t even begin to cover off on more traditional promotional tactics like tv spots and digital ads.

However, as a media strategist, lifelong Barbie lover, and likely a key target audience, it got me thinking. If Barbie (Mattel) was my client, would I have recommended this marketing approach? 

Iconic As She Is, Barbie Has Some Competition

My daughter turned seven recently, and when crafting the birthday wish list, Barbie wasn’t part of it.  She specifically didn’t want one.  This was hard for me to comprehend as I had at least 20 Barbies as a kid; the Dreamhouse, the Corvette, Camper, Apartment, Scooter, Horse, Pool – I had it all.  She then informed me that she’d like to get rid of her Dreamhouse!  My little girl heart ached!

From my POV, the Barbie brand is in trouble. 

The competition is stiff.  Other dolls are capturing my daughter’s attention – Rainbow High, LOL, etc.  Actually, the rage right now is squishy stuffed animals.  Barbie has tried to compete, mimicking some of the unboxing trends that LOL has brought, but it hasn’t seemed enough. 

While their brand value grew from $378 million in 2021 to $588 million in 2022, their worldwide sales decreased by almost $200 million in the same time period.

Barbie is a long sustaining brand, and even has its own aisle in Target, but it has to stay relevant to today’s parents and kids and over the years we’ve seen these attempts to create modern relevance. But with today’s young audiences just air cover isn’t enough, you’ve got to create connections and experiences, and literally PLAY with them. 

“Back in 2014 and 2015, we hit a low and it was a moment to reflect in the context of, ‘Why did Barbie lose relevance?’” said Ricard Dickson, president and chief operating officer of Mattel. “She didn’t reflect the physicality, the look, if you will, of the world around us. And so we then set a course to truly transform the brand with a playbook around reigniting our purpose.”

Enter The Barbie Movie And Its Multifaceted, “Leave No Marketing Stone Unturned”, Approach. 

But let’s be honest, the brand collaboration list longer than we can count isn’t about promoting a movie. Barbie is in it for the long haul.

As a media strategist, I tease out campaign objectives for our clients, and align all measurements in pursuit of those objectives.  So I have to wonder, what were those documented objectives, typed out in a pretty pink font, somewhere out there in a marketing plan? 

My guess?

  • Increase brand favorability 
  • Increase, or maintain, share of shelf
  • Increase product sales

A lot of industry chatter has focused on the amount of brand partnerships – is it all just too much?  Is it financially savvy?  I think it’s a smart strategy, and a necessary one. 

But How Do You Make Sure It’s Not Too Much?  

Lock In Your Audience

In this case there are multiple: the people who buy the Barbies (there are layers there, but primarily it’s moms), and the kids who demand them (I wish that was my 7yo daughter). 

Mattel knows their future success doesn’t just rely on reviving the passion for the brand with Gen X and Millennials. They need to grow affinity with Gen Z and Generation Alpha. 

While developing audiences for any campaign, it is important to not fall into a confirmation bias but to let the data tell you who your core audience target is, while also allowing for testing with other audiences to expand your consumer base.

Do Your Research

Knowing your audience, you can uncover their affinities to analyze reach potential. What online and offline habits do these audiences have? What other brands do they engage with? What motivates them to take action? What messaging resonates?

Leveraging a variety of industry tools, you will know what tactics to use and levers to pull to best get in front of your audience in a compelling way.

Identify ROI Goals & Do The Math

The last key step in the analysis is running the numbers.  Their reach goal must be massive, and we know in order to achieve mass reach of such a diverse audience group, you have to cover a very fragmented media-scape, hence the plethora of brand partnerships. 

So how do you make sure it’s not too much?  You do the math.  Setting clear KPIs for the partnership returns, examining reach to ensure minimal duplication, and penciling out the ROAS will ensure that dollars are well placed. 

Would I Recommend This Approach If Mattel Were My Client?  

Yes, even before the final tally.  

It’s well done.  You’d have to live in a cave to escape the knowledge that this movie is coming out, but I am feeling the cool factor as well. Adding in a nostalgic element, which we know drives a 15 point increase in enjoyability and 9 point increase in emotional connection; they have created such excitement about the brand that’s easy for even my daughter to see.   

We are just hours away from a major milestone of the first box office weekend.  No doubt that one of the main KPIs is ticket sales.  

But I have my own KPI, the one that Mattel should pay the most attention to. 

The next time I take my daughter to Target, will she ask me to buy her a Barbie?

Lesley Landry
Lesley Landry
AMD, Client Strategy
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