Has Mattel Gone Overboard With Its Barbiecore Marketing Push?

Words by Rahul Raghuvanshi

Has Mattel Gone Overboard With Its Barbiecore Marketing Push?
Has Mattel Gone Overboard With Its Barbiecore Marketing Push?

Mattel’s marketing machinery has been operating in full swing, drumming up excitement for the launch of the much-awaited Barbie movie on July 21, 2023.

Lead actress Margot Robbie has been jet-setting across the globe, appearing at movie premiers dressed in Barbie grab head to toe. Meanwhile, celebrities from Dua Lipa to Paris Hilton have been busy promoting all things Barbie on their social media accounts.

Adding to the Barbie mania, fans are planning bottomless brunches for July 21, 2023, using an AI-powered Barbie selfie generator for creating viral memes, and turning to Instagram-friendly pop-ups in malls and retail stores like Zara to shop and snap pictures in a hot pink setup.

And this is only just scratching the surface. Mattel has signed hundreds of licensing agreements with brands for clothes, shoes, makeup, rugs, fast food, and even Xbox controllers.

In Malibu, Airbnb has listed Barbie’s Malibu DreamHouse, a three-story, fluorescent pink mansion equipped with a swimming pool, a tall and curvy pink slide, a disco roller rink, and an outdoor glittery dance floor — all guests could possibly need to experience living their Barbie and Ken dreams.

So, it isn’t just you who is finding their social media feeds extra pink lately. Mattel’s marketing teams have put in years of work to orchestrate their Barbie marketing campaign carefully.

“It’s more like [they’re selling] Barbie’s lifestyle plan now like this is how Barbie would dress up, talk, the things she would eat, what kind of candles she would have in her house,” said Moshe Isaacian, a senior brand consultant.

"These are things that mostly an older generation care about."

At the heart of the campaign, Mattel has leveraged Barbie’s legacy intellectual property to create buzz, focusing on the use of technologies such as AI and metaverse, interactivity, and shareability.

While it remains to be seen how the movie will perform at the box office, Mattel has seemingly done a bang-up job engaging consumers — whether they care for Barbie and/or Ken.

It still raises the question: Has Mattel gone overboard with its Barbie marketing? Is its brand marketing saturating consumers’ feeds to the point that they are scrolling right past it?

“It does feel oversaturated in the sense that they’ve extended so much into every possible product you can think of,” said Sarah Engel, president of the advertising agency January Digital. “It’s on every shelf, it’s just everywhere.” 

There is no doubt among Hollywood and marketing pundits that the movie is going to be number 1 at the box office even if it is not critically acclaimed. But it is worth asking whether the broad marketing push will translate into actual Barbie sales, and more importantly, do all the partnering brands stand to benefit from tapping into the ongoing Barbie craze?

After all, do consumers really care to order a Barbie Burger slathered in pink sauce during their next Burger King visit? Do adult consumers really care to buy Barbie-themed glassware? And will Barbie really encourage consumers to buy a policy from Progressive Insurance?

Let us be honest. That is a waste of marketing dollars — that too at a time when businesses are already counting every dollar on their balance sheets. 

“Not every brand has a right to play in this space to the Barbie movie,” Engel said.

"Not every brand's cultural moment is [their] cultural moment."

It is imperative for brands today to stay on top of trends, but they must also question whether their products align with fleeting trends on TikTok and Instagram. 

As Professor Sameer Hosany from the Royal Holloway University of London puts it, tapping into cross-promotion can be highly risky as it makes a brand’s reputation reliant on other brands. It also creates the risk of brand dilution as it pushes them to introduce products at odds with their own standards.

And then, of course, there is the risk of their marketing campaign getting lost in a sea of other similar campaigns clogging up consumers’ social media feeds. 

Photo credit: MATTEL

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