Barbie, the film: Mattel masterclass in brand relaunch and repositioning and how Zara grabbed the chance to launch the best capsule collection ever.

David López López

This doll created more than 64 years ago was, and still is, an icon loved by millions of girls and boys around the world for her blonde hair, pretty image, perfect measurements, up-market hobbies, lifestyle beyond the reach of most of society and wonderful friends, and her vast selection of ideal accessories for every occasion. But Barbie has haters too – perhaps just as many – for exactly the same reasons. 

Mattel’s stroke of genius: from thinking about retiring Barbie in 2014  to her Hollywood renaissance in 2023

Although they had run the occasional, half-hearted campaign before, it was now urgent for Mattel to decisively convey at all touch points a new vision of “openness, inclusion and diversity” for the Barbie brand, which accounted for 40% of the company’s turnover. The aim of the new vision was to: 

  • End the decline in the sales of these dolls (more than 9% in 2022). 
  • Win back former regular consumers and make them prescribers in their spheres of influence such as family (particularly sons and daughters), at work or amongst friends. 
  • Unlock sales to Generation Z, apparently not interested in buying. 
  • Nurture new, off-shoot sources of income, particularly merchandising. 

This is not the first time that Mattel has created and released multimedia content such as movies, series (on TV and online, via YouTube and Netflix), or even cameos in other hit movies such as Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3. But that content always aimed to promote a specific collection or lead item, such as: Barbie in a Mermaid Adventure, Barbie: Magical Fashion in Paris, or Barbie and her Perfect Christmas. 

But now the proposal was different. The idea was to create a sort of “pink tsunami” (PANTONE 219C to be precise) that could make you feel that “life in plastic, it’s fantastic” and that you’re in the Barbie World. 

To create this tsunami, we started with three basic ingredients: the film, tons of marketing (before, during and after the film) and co-branding with big brands. 

1. The film 

Barbie, a live-action film with top-notch actors and a robust cast, is, according to critics, “painfully funny,” light-hearted, “uneven and disjointed,” feminist, and “extremely weird, conceptually unsteady, and often laugh-out-loud.” Aimed at both an older audience to reconnect with the brand (using storytelling, fun, mischief and nostalgia) and a younger audience through satire about gender roles, humor, surprise, the message, empowerment and, in a certain way, inclusion and diversity. 

2. The marketing 

The film’s marketing is a masterclass in the use of tried and tested techniques that have worked brilliantly for other big brands such as Star Wars, Bizarrap and FC Barcelona, particularly: 

  • Official teaser 1. First trailer released on 16 December 2022 achieved an amazing 4 million views. 
  • Official teaser 2 + Buzz Marketing. The second official trailer released on 4 April 2023 garnered 7.5 million views, soaring to 28th position in the global ranking of trending videos on YouTube. But in addition to the eye-catching teaser, the campaign also featured the “Barbie Selfie Generator” using AI to create and customize the film’s official poster (with photos of the user, or the actors or memes) and then share it on social media to make it go viral. 
  • Influencer marketing. The selfie generator was so successful that artists not involved in the film and other influencers joined in, encouraging thousands of fans to do likewise. 
  • Street Marketing. Big, surprising, fun posters like the famous blank pink poster, the Ken's bench and Barbie box in the Hight Street: Barbie cartelBarbie bancoBarbie caja

3. Cobranding 

Mattel signed license agreements with more than 100 brands. As a result, this summer, besides wearing Barbie clothes by Gap, Primark or Forever 21, you can wear Barbie shoes by Aldo, her in-line skates by Skatehut or Impala and her makeup (NYX Cosmetics and others). You can also chill in a Barbie pool lounger by Funboy whilst enjoying a Barbie yogurt ice-cream by Pinkberry.  
You can serve drinks in Barbie glasses by Dragon glasses too, or perfume your home with Homesick themed candles, give your feet a rest on a Barbie carpet by Ruggable or paint your nails with OPI Nail Colors. You can also book Barbie’s Dream House in Malibu on Airbnb, play with a pink Xbox and then brush your teeth with “the pinkest oral beauty collection in history” by Moon, have a coffee at a Barbie pop-up café by Bucket Listers, plus hundreds of other ways of being part of Barbie’s world. 
According to some experts, these sorts of alliances have proven to be a more impactful and probably more profitable way of promoting the film than traditional media spend. 

Zara exploited the pink hype better than any other brand, sweeping the board with their designs and marketing

Many fashion, accessories and perfume companies have launched Barbie-inspired collections, but Zara pushed the envelope further. As some experts say: “There’s only one Barbie, but there’s only one Zara.” 

  • Lightning-fast fashion. “Win the race.” 
    Zara and Barbie have joined forces and, according to certain fashion experts, “the collection couldn’t be pinker, prettier or more amazing.” Only Zara, after signing with Barbie, could have launched in record time, on June 17th, a Barbie-style capsule collection for women, men and children featuring dresses, suits, shoes and even underwear, plus accessories, beauty products and homeware with a passion for pink and glitter. 
  • Deliberately limited collections 
    The garments sold out within hours of the launch. Zara customers already knew that “If you like something in Zara, buy it. Don’t think twice or it’ll go, and you’ll miss out” because Zara usually produces fewer garments than they can sell to influence consumers in two ways: create a sense of urgency, and guarantee repeat visits to stores or the website. Sell-out collections have financial and logistic benefits too, because they avoid issues like reverse logistics, product obsolescence, stocking costs and even having to destroy products. 

    As a result, many people queued for hours to buy the objects of their desire, and Barbie by Zara items soon appeared on resale platforms like Vinted and Wallapop. 

    In this instance, as one expert explained, these limited collections have another obvious goal, “we’re not looking to sell lots of garments: brand awareness is the aim of our campaign.” And they sure achieved it.  
  • Pop-up stores 
    To maximize the Barbie experience, Zara has created two pop-up stores open until July 30th, one on the Champs Elysées, Paris and the other in Soho, New York. In addition, the Zara flagship store in A Coruña has been specially decorated with Barbie boxes. 
  • Mold-breaking campaign 
    In keeping with Mattel’s new vision for Barbie, Zara furthers their support for diversity with a campaign confirming that not all models are blond with blue eyes or skinny – hence their choice of a plus-size, transgender model. This model – who has also worked for major brands including Dolce&Gabbana, Courregès, Charlotte Tilbury, Ganni and Mugler, and was recently the face of Victoria’s Secret diversity campaign – has made a huge, positive impact, particularly amongst younger consumers. 
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