The ‘Barbenheimer’ marketing tactics your startup shouldn’t sleep on

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August 3rd 2023

The ‘Barbenheimer’ marketing tactics your startup shouldn’t sleep on

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Come on Barbie – let’s talk marketing… and Oppenheimer, of course.

It seems there’s no space on the internet that’s not been colonized by the Barbenheimer extravaganza that hit theatres on July 21! Oh, and that marketing blitz? It worked!

Barbie’s ROI burst out the roof by making over $350 million in the first weekend alone, making it the highest-grossing opening weekend for a female director EVUH – you go Greta Gerwig! Oppenheimer, on the other hand, is officially one of the only 19 movies to make over $100 million on opening weekend this year and the 2nd biggest opening for a biopic ever (after American Sniper).

Was it intentional for both movies to be released on the same day? Well, let’s talk about it…

Whether it was on purpose or not, we can’t deny the impact that the Barbenheimer hype had. How did two movies that are totally polar opposites become a rivalry? We’ll let you in on a secret: merely having them released on the same day created that ever-elusive ‘illusion of choice’.

The illusion of choice

The Barbie team spent millions on marketing — we’re talking pink confetti when you Google search Greta Gerwig (writer and director), Margot Robbie (Barbie) and Ryan Gosling (Ken), a real-life Malibu Barbie dream house you can rent on Airbnb, a tour of Barbie’s house with Architectural Digest and countless collaborations — from Popcorn pop-ups to Selfridges show roomsname a brand, it’s been Barbiefied.

And did you see that giant CGI Barbie in front of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai?

Barbie was set to be in your face 24/7 — everything was and still is Barbiefied! Being the only 2 major films released on the same day, by default Oppenheimer became Barbie’s competition. Despite a microscopic marketing budget and being a 3-hour biopic about physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s creation of the atomic bomb, it was still a major contender.

This is how the illusion of choice was created… consumers from all over the world were made to believe they had a difficult question to answer and talk about. The question wasn’t, “What should I do on July 21st?” it was, “Am I going to watch Barbie OR Oppenheimer on July 21st?”

Your homework:

Now how can your startup manifest this illusion of choice to increase brand awareness and sales?

Run a ‘Choose Your Fighter’ style campaign:

The truth is, there are likely thousands of companies out there selling similar products to yours. Although the specifics will vary, the essential core of a product is often the same. Take soda companies: there’s Coke, then there’s Pepsi.

By promoting a single product from your brand, you’re opening yourself up to comparison against your competition.

Instead, try encouraging consumers to focus on 2 of your offerings – double trouble! How do you do this? Choose 2 products from your brand that are somewhat opposites but still target the same audiences.

It’s time to schedule a brain dump! With your team, come up with marketing strategies that will juxtapose two of your products against each other. Cook up some memes, create personalities for the products (think the different “types” of Mattel Barbies) and create tension! Establish the “choice” as a choice between YOUR two products – not yours and someone else’s. That way – you’re always winning.

Diversity and Inclusion

“This was not about making a movie. This was about creating a cultural event that will reach, engage, and touch consumers all over the world.” — Mattel CEO, Ynon Kreiz for Vanity Fair

Barbie was founded in 1959 by Ruth Handler who believed that “little girls could be anything they wanted to be”. With that said it would be remiss not to discuss the backlash and controversy regarding Mattel’s inclusivity – or lack thereof.

Did you know there was once an “Oreo Barbie”? In an attempt to be inclusive at the time (albeit not that long ago, circa 2001), Mattel created a Black Barbie and called it ‘Oreo Fun Barbie’. Shockingly, not one single person in the chain of command was aware of the common knowledge that ‘Oreo’ is a racial slur used to describe a person who is ‘Black on the outside and white on the inside’. Not so much ‘smart cookies’ after all.

Then there was The Slumber Party Barbie doll released in 1965. Sparking controversy as it came packaged with a bathroom scale set to 110 pounds, a ‘diet book’ and at the back of the book read, “Don’t Eat!” Cue a cringe moment!

So, how did Mattel go from Barbie blunders to Barbie #goals? A makeover of course! Investing some serious time and thought into how to truly make the dolls inclusive, diverse and ultimately empower the next generation. The end result? As of 2023, the Barbie line has over 35 skin tones, 94 hairstyles and 9 body types.

Your homework:

Don’t forget that consumers need to feel seen, heard and understood. It’s one thing to hire a range of people of different ethnicities and backgrounds in order to hit your diversity and inclusion targets. It’s another thing entirely to make sure that all of those diverse voices feel comfortable, encouraged and are actively welcomed and heard.

Let’s break the fourth wall for a second and unpack this anecdotal example from our Content Writer… me, Mbali!

A few months ago, I binged Netflix’s hit tv series ‘Good Girls’ which follows three mothers from the suburbs who find themselves committing an array of crimes to support their families – I was hooked from the first episode. Storyline aside, casting itself was excellent (and diverse) with the leads played by 2 white women and 1 black woman.

As a black woman myself, you could easily assume that I relate most with the black woman, Ruby (played by Retta) – but no. I actually saw myself in one of the white women - Beth (played by Christina Hendricks). It was because of the character of Beth that I stuck with all 50 episodes. It was in Beth that I recognized my own personality traits …and that’s a lesson within itself: mindlessly including different races in your company does not automatically make your company inclusive or diverse – but stories do.

Find a way to embed diverse and inclusive stories into your marketing — stories that consumers can connect with. Feeling lost? Don’t stress, we cover exactly how here. But don’t expect it to be accomplished overnight… it took Barbie decades.

From the illusion of choice to diversity and inclusion – adopting these Barbenheimer marketing tactics can be a game-changer for startups on a mission to accelerate growth and success in today's competitive landscape. Remember: If there’s enough room for the Barbie AND Oppenheimer blockbusters – then there’s enough room for your biz too! Let your marketing tactics carve out a special space just for you.

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