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Barbie world: Marketing blitz that made film break records

 Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in Barbie (2023)

'Barbie' has become the most talked-about film of 2023. The 'Barbiecore' trend hit a fever pitch this year in anticipation of the live-action film. Over 100 brands participated in Barbie brand collaborations.

What made it a box office success and why are we all suddenly living in pink?

It was a tough decision for moviegoers choosing between two of the most hyped movies releasing on the same July 21 date: 'Barbie' and Christopher Nolan's star-studded 'Oppenheimer.'

But what made 'Barbienheimer' so popular? Perhaps it was because of the stark contrast between the two, one being about the world's most iconic doll and the other an epic about the creation of the atomic bomb.

Based on the Barbie fashion dolls by Mattel, it is the first live-action Barbie film after numerous computer-animated films and specials.

Barbie (Margot Robbie), the most popular of all the Barbies in Barbieland, begins experiencing an existential crisis.

She must travel to the human world to understand herself and discover her true purpose. Her kinda-sorta boyfriend, Ken (Ryan Gosling), comes along for the ride because his existence depends on Barbie acknowledging him.

Both discover harsh truths - and make new friends - along the road to enlightenment.

"To live in Barbie Land is to be a perfect being in a perfect place. Unless you have a full-on existential crisis, or you are a Ken," the film's synopsis on IMDB reads.

The popularity of Barbie is no accident. Barbie's success was a direct result of an onslaught of marketing from Mattel and Warner Bros that stretches back to April 2022 at CinemaCon.

Warner Bros released the first image of Margot Robbie as Barbie as they confirmed the July 21 release date.

Trade publication Variety reported that Warner Bros. spent $150 million (Sh21.6 billion) on marketing for Barbie-more than the $145 million (Sh20.9 billion) budget used to produce the movie itself.

Months before the release, Mattel entered into several Barbie-themed promotional partnerships and collaborations with various brands, including Airbnb, Aldo, Bloomingdale's, Burger King Brazil, and Forever 21, among many others.

They rolled out Barbiecore clothing, home decor and even frozen yoghurt. They also had a star-studded soundtrack, a seemingly never-ending line of tie-in merchandise and a glittering press tour.

However, the real secret to Barbie's potential box office success has less to do with pink products than its subject and intended audience. Barbie was able to make a movie for women that wasn't condescending.

The good

The film received widespread acclaim for its performances, particularly those of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling and other talented stars including Issa Rae, Kate McKinnon, and Will Ferrell.

Robbie was made to play this role. She just looks like a Barbie doll come to life.

Even more interestingly, the soundtrack has been produced by Mark Ronson and includes tracks from the likes of Dua Lipa, Tame Impala, Nicki Minaj, and Ice Spice, who've combined to sample the original Barbie Girl by Aqua.

The production design and visual aesthetics were also top-notch. Surprisingly, Barbie is unapologetically leaning into a feminine aesthetic with a nauseating amount of pink in every set. Yet somehow, the approach feels fun and attracts a generation of nostalgic millennial women who watched those films at sleepovers.

Greta Gerwig's directing and collaboration with Margot Robbie should be noted as a crucial partnership that brought precision to the execution of the film. Gerwig also directed "Lady Bird" and "Little Women," and Barbie was written by Gerwig and her partner, Noah Baumbach.

The film's ability to address feminist themes and provide funny moments added up to an overall delightful spectacle. Barbie was attempting to challenge and critique societal norms, including themes related to capitalism and beauty standards, something few movies manage to do successfully.

As of August 15, 2023, Barbie has grossed a total of $1.192 billion (Sh171 billion) worldwide, a "record-breaking" box office success during its opening weekend.

The film crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide on August 6, 2023, making it the first film by a solo female director to do so, according to 'The Numbers, a film industry data website.

The bad

On the flip side, despite how hard it tried, the film did not go far enough in critiquing consumerism and beauty standards. Its examination of these themes was insufficient.

The movie's political messaging and emotional impact have been put into question by some movie lovers, with criticism directed at what was perceived as muddled politics and a flat emotional ending.

While 'Barbie' is wildly ambitious in an exciting way, it drags when it starts to tackle its more serious themes. One character even delivers a lengthy and very preachy, third-act speech about the conundrum of being a woman and the contradictory standards to which society holds us.

The portrayal of gender dynamics in the film received mixed reviews, with some feeling that it reinforced stereotypes. In their attempts to not be sexist, they end up framing men as stupid, do not do anything except go to the gym, and do not care about women.

Gerwig makes sure to take care of the movie's core audience, dialling up the nostalgia level up.

As a millennial, I remember growing up with a Barbie doll, combing her hair all day, mixing and matching all her outfits with my other dolls, and making her kiss Ken or smashing their heads together.

This brings to light the matter of crass capitalism and excess marketing underlying the feel-good fuzzies of corporate pop. It has been impossible to avoid the incessant social media coverage of this pink extravaganza.

For instance, Pink billboards, which only contain the film's release date - have appeared in cities worldwide, and a real-life version of Barbie's DreamHouse has appeared, which fans can rent on Airbnb.

The point is to see Barbie everywhere and want to see the movie. They rolled out an Xbox-themed console with the Barbie Playhouse look on top. ALDO Shoes also released the classic Barbie packaging for their shoe drop. There are countless threads on X (formerly called Twitter) to show exactly what has been part of the campaign.

The intention seems to have been to sell the Barbie lifestyle: how she would dress up, talk, eat, and what kind of candles she would have in her house (which 'Homesick Candles' have a collection for).

Whichever way you see it, Mattel's cleverness to capitalise on the excitement has awakened a rather grim retail landscape. Longtime Barbie fans will get a kick out of seeing the different dolls, classic outfits, and accessories they had growing up brought to life.

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