New movie Barbie, a Margot Robbie-led deep dive into the iconic doll scripted by Oscar nominees Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, was always going to spark interest. The premise has been raising eyebrows ever since the unlikely match-up of indie filmmakers and a multinational toy company was first announced. But there’s no denying that the Barbie marketing campaign has elevated that initial intrigue to a whole new level of phenomenon.
It all kicked off with a cheeky comment from the movie’s co-lead Ryan Gosling at the CinemaCon event that first showed that this press tour is going to be slightly different. "I only knew Ken from afar," he told bemused crowds. "I didn't know Ken from within, and if I'm being really honest, I doubted my Kenergy." Months later, I’m still not entirely sure what on Earth he was talking about, but who cares? I’ve embraced the weirdness of this Barbie-world, and I’m not sure I ever want to leave.
Painting the town pink
From here, the press tour has only got more delightfully off-kilter. Barbie’s Dreamhouse has featured prominently, with an incredible Architectural Digest tour, featuring tidbits about the endless meetings they had about shades of pink. Then in an amazing move of viral marketing, Warner Bros. announced that the house would be up on AirBnB for a few days only, after Ken decided to rent it out when he was house-sitting.
Of course, there are also the outfits. Whatever your fashion background is, it’s been impossible not to adore all of the looks the cast have been wearing throughout their worldwide tour. Whether it’s Gosling’s Greta Gerwig tee (which I immediately ordered a dupe of) or Robbie's many, many nods to classic Barbie dolls, the attention to detail has been immaculate. My personal favorite is the recreation of the 1959 original Barbie for a photo shoot at Bondi Beach.
The pure joy of the Barbie marketing campaign is that it’s been in conversation with fans too, who’ve wholeheartedly embraced it. Just remember when everyone was making "This Barbie…" posters, which spanned the breadth of wholesome to very odd crossovers.
Now, the biggest talking point has been Barbenheimer, so-called as Christopher Nolan’s latest film arrives in theaters on the same day. Fans have been making endless memes about everything from what they’ll wear for the tonally different double bill to some darker crossovers between the films. Even cinema champion Tom Cruise has got involved.
In short, it’s been genius – and has clearly been paying dividends already too. Barbie’s tracking numbers stack up well, with current box office predictions putting it at $93 million in its opening weekend. Up against a production budget of about $100 million, that’s a hugely impressive feat.
For me, the campaign recalls a way of promoting movies that we saw a lot more of in the noughties. In particular, it’s Gerwig’s "weekend buddy" Nolan who previously nailed something like this with The Dark Knight. In the 15 months leading up to that movie’s release, Warner Bros. launched an intereactive campaign called 'Why So Serious', which brought audiences into the world of Gotham.
Beginning with websites covering everything from Harvey Dent’s campaign to the Gotham ferry timetables, fans were also invited to play online games to unlock parts of the story. This bled into the real world too, as groups met up dressed in Joker make-up to campaign for Harvey Dent and build hype for the film (if you’re intrigued, check out this deep-dive into the marketing here).
In the years since, there have been other examples too that have worked particularly well. This includes horror film Smile’s clever campaign of hiding people with terrifying grins in plain sight, which helped the movie make its budget back in its opening weekend. Other highlights are Terrifier 2’s sick bags and Joaquin Phoenix’s method promotion of I’m Still Here.
But I want to see more, and I hope Barbie is the blueprint for bringing that fun back. Give me an interactive chocolate factory for Wonka or some shots of the Meg hiding in the backdrop of news reports.
Speaking and engaging with the people who will see your movies is a no-brainer. Especially at a time when cinemas are under increasing pressure to get audiences in early rather than waiting for digital releases. So, in an age of streaming, where platforms like Netflix will drop a movie by an award-winning director with no marketing whatsoever, there’s never been a better time to embrace the Kenergy.
Barbie arrives in theaters on July 21. For more on the new movie, check out our deep dives into the complete history of the attempts to bring it to screen as well as Barbie's surprising comic book history.