The 'Barbie' phenomenon drives Mattel's business beyond the toy

The worldwide success of the Barbie movie has given the film industry a breather this summer.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
26 August 2023 Saturday 10:28
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The 'Barbie' phenomenon drives Mattel's business beyond the toy

The worldwide success of the Barbie movie has given the film industry a breather this summer. The halls have been filled to overflowing with spectators excited to learn the new story of the most iconic doll of all time.

One month after its release, the film has been acclaimed by film critics but the business world hasn't been short of it either. The marketing strategy orchestrated by Mattel has been widely applauded. The American group that owns the doll has not only managed to relaunch the Barbie brand (obsolete for years because it was considered to represent all female gender stereotypes) but has also managed to diversify it beyond the sale of toys, a sector that is increasingly affected by the digital habits of the child consumer.

“Barbie is no longer just a little girls doll. She has become a global brand that challenges all generations through a message of empowerment for women. In recent years, the company had already begun to introduce social diversity into its dolls, but the brand was still somewhat outdated," says Marc Ros, founder and CEO of the After agency, who recalls that Barbie was born in 1959 as a symbol of modernity, being the first of its category that represented an adult woman.

Given this phenomenon, the stock market has reacted upwards. Mattel's share price has skyrocketed by more than 20% from the end of June to today, with the share price standing at around 22 dollars, about 20 euros, a maximum in the year.

The market applauds the change in strategy because in just two months the company has managed to license the Barbie brand to 165 companies. For example: Starbucks has launched a pink milkshake, Airbnb has put Ken's luxury mansion in Malibu up for rent, Zara and Primarck have launched a collection inspired by the costumes from the film, and shoe brands Crocs and Superga too. Strengthening these license agreements is precisely the great objective that the CEO of the group, Ynon Kreiz, has set for himself. Since he took over in 2018, he has set out to turn one of the world's largest toymakers into a major intellectual property group. “It is not something new. Disney is also following the same strategy. Through fictional characters, such as Marvel's Spiderman, the group creates films thinking about selling movie tickets, but above all about licensing brands of the protagonists to other companies," says Eduardo Correa, a professor specializing in marketing and sales at the school. business EAE.

In the case of the toy giant, the Mattel Films division (created in 2013) works on dozens of productions linked to its brands. After the star launch this summer, in the coming months it plans to release children's content linked to Barbie, as well as movies from other brands such as Hot Wheels or Polly Pocket.

“In the era of digitization, toy manufacturers are forced to reinvent themselves, to capture the attention of the consumer in any way. That is why transmedia marketing strategies are successful: brands are sold through films, advertisements, social networks, video games, board games...", comments Esther Hierro, director of games and toys at Abacus. But among all these advertising media, audiovisual content "has emerged as a benchmark when it comes to creating trends in the world of toys," she says.

And why is the cinema better than the rest? According to Professor Correa, “brands have a lot of time to explain themselves to the consumer, to infuse messages and, above all, generate emotions, which are the biggest driver when it comes to promoting consumption. Without emotions, there are no memories, no interest, no attention, ”he says.

Ros adds that "the cinema also offers a strong component of credibility and commitment to the brand, since the consumer goes to the cinema willing to pay a ticket to see content about the company". Although he acknowledges, yes, that the format is only available to very few companies, because production is very expensive.

Another of the benefits of cinema as an advertising showcase is that the impact of a film goes beyond the two hours that the viewer is absorbed by the big screen. "Now a successful film floods social networks such as TikTok, generates memes, articles on the internet... So, thanks to the digital world, the mark that a film leaves in the collective imagination can multiply by 100", he points out.

Experts agree in stating that the Barbie phenomenon will promote the big screen as an advertising tool for brands. The idea is not new, but has been around for decades. For example, in the 1961 Breakfast at Tiffany's movies, The Devil Wears Prada (2006) or the Super Mario Bros video game sagas (1980 onwards), the brand is included in the title itself. Although the most common thing is for companies to sneak into the movies in a more or less explicit way, as in the case of the film One, Two, Three (1961), starring a Coca-Cola executive, or the film Air ( 2023 ), on the Nike logo, among many others.

So the Barbie movie does not bring anything new to the advertising industry. Although the experts do highlight its very explicit way of selling the brand to the viewer. "In the film by Mattel and Warner Bros [the producer], the viewer knows perfectly well that he is facing a movie in which he is going to find publicity for Barbie and that can change a trend in Hollywood," says Correa. In addition, Ros points out, the film introduces a new component in the genre of films about companies. "Barbie marks a before and after because it not only offers entertainment, but also introduces a message of social commitment that challenges different generations," she says.

Both consider that this trend could go further, not only because of the interest of the brands, but also because of the desire of the audiovisual industry itself to sell more movie tickets at a time when the platforms are gaining ground on the big screen.