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

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

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
26 August 2023 Saturday 11:13
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The 'Barbie' phenomenon drives Mattel's business beyond the toy

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

A month after its release, the film has been acclaimed by film critics, but the business world has not been shortchanged either. The marketing strategy designed by Mattel has been strongly applauded. The US group that owns the doll has not only managed to relaunch the Barbie brand (years out of date because it was seen as representing all female gender stereotypes), but has also managed to diversify beyond selling toys, a sector increasingly affected by the digital habits of children's consumers.

“Barbie is no longer just a doll for little girls. It has become a global brand that appeals to all generations through a message of women's empowerment. In recent years, the company had already begun to introduce social diversity to the dolls, but the brand was still a bit outdated", points out Marc Ros, founder and CEO of the After agency, who remembers that Barbie was born in 1959 as a symbol of modernity, given that it was the first of its category to represent an adult woman.

As a result of this phenomenon, the stock market has reacted upwards. Mattel's share price has soared more than 20 percent since the end of June until today, after the share price hovered around $22, about 20 euros, a high for 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 is renting out Ken's luxury mansion in Malibu, Zara and Primark have launched a collection inspired by the film's clothing, and shoe brands Crocs and Superga, too. Boosting these license agreements is precisely the great goal that the group's CEO, Ynon Kreiz, has set himself. Since taking over in 2018, he has set out to turn one of the world's biggest toy makers into a major intellectual property group. "It's not something new. Disney also follows the same strategy. Through fictional characters, such as Marvel's Spider-Man, the group creates films with the intention of selling cinema tickets, but above all licensing brands of the protagonists to other companies", points out Eduardo Correa, professor specialized in marketing and sales at the school of 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 this summer's star launch, in the coming months it plans to release children's content linked to Barbie, as well as films from other brands, such as Hot Wheels or Polly Pocket.

"In the age of digitization, toy manufacturers are forced to reinvent themselves, to capture the consumer's attention in whatever way they can. This is why transmedia marketing strategies succeed: 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 risen as a reference when it comes to creating trends in the world of toys", he says.

And why is cinema better than the rest? According to Professor Correa, "brands have a lot of time to spread themselves in front of the consumer, to infuse messages and, above all, provoke emotions, which are the biggest tractor when it comes to encouraging 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, as the consumer goes to the cinema willing to pay a ticket to see content about the company". Despite everything, he admits that the format is only within the reach of very few companies, because production is very expensive.

Another benefit of the cinema as an advertising showcase is that the impact of a film goes beyond the two hours in which the viewer is absorbed by the big screen. "Now, a successful film floods social networks like TikTok, generates memes, articles on the internet... Therefore, thanks to the digital world, the mark left by a film on the collective imagination can be multiplied per cent", he points out.

Experts agree that the Barbie phenomenon will boost the big screen as an advertising tool for brands. The idea is not new, it has been around for decades. For example, in the films Breakfast at Tiffany's (Breakfast with Diamonds), from 1961, and The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and in the Super Mario Bros video game sagas (from 1980) the brand is included in the same title However, it is more common for companies to sneak into films 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), about the Nike logo, among many others.

Therefore, the Barbie movie does not bring anything new to the advertising industry. The experts, however, do highlight his very explicit way of selling the brand to the viewer. "In the film by Mattel and Warner Bros [the production company], the viewer knows perfectly well that he is in front of a film in which he will find advertising for Barbie, and this can change a trend in Hollywood", says Correa. In addition, Ros points out, the film introduces an innovative component to 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 appeals to different generations," he says.

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