By Carrie Schum

This blog was initially called “‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ Is a Great Movie Title … but Not a Great Plan for a Campaign.”

That’s because 99.99% of the time, you don’t need to reach everyone to accomplish your goal, and when you don’t have infinite marketing dollars, it’s also impossible. 

But then another movie—yes, a very pink one—showed me a thing or two. The Barbie marketing campaign has actually gotten everyone, everywhere to see and talk about Barbie. From Xbox to Airbnb to the Barbie Burger at Burger King, the Barbie marketing campaign is ubiquitous. The ubiquity of the marketing is as much of the story as (if not more than) the movie itself (check out memes such as this one, which credits anything pink to an effort by the marketing team)

So, it got me thinking … What can the rest of us learn from Barbie? What I found was that under the lighthearted and fanciful exterior—and everything showing up everywhere—is a whole lot of smart strategic thinking and lessons that work for campaigns of any size. Consider these:

  1. A strong guiding principle unites a campaign. Great campaigns are more than just a lot of tactics. Campaigns are united by a shared idea that serves as the overall filter and touchstone to make sure that all the pieces work as a whole. According to Warner Brothers, their guiding principle was to “make Barbie part of the Zeitgeist.” In practice, this meant that rather than trying to push messages to people, Barbie-themed activations became part of other brands’ marketing and helped Barbie show up in all kinds of unexpected places, effectively “creating a brand world that pulls consumers in.
  1. Well-defined brand assets are powerful tools. Yes, now everyone is grousing that they’re sick of pink, and there is, apparently, even a pink paint shortage—but Barbie’s iconic color is a simple, memorable, and clear way to show her presence. These kinds of shortcuts are what brain science calls lightening the cognitive load, and they improve retention and cognition (i.e., people remember you and know what you stand for). 

    Building and sticking with a set of core brand assets is something any campaign and any issue can and should do. Our work on EO= has branded employee ownership for small business owners in a way that hadn’t been done before, and it has driven hundreds to ask for a consultation on how to make it work for them. 
  1. Tone matters. Barbie has learned from past missteps (remember the “math class is tough” controversy?), and the marketing tone is fresh, self-aware, and lighthearted. From the pastel palette to ad copy such as “Barbie is everything. He’s just Ken” and “If you love Barbie, this movie is for you. If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you,” there is a clear and united tone—one that neatly diffuses a lot of the potential criticism of consumerism and overt brand positioning.
  1. Partnerships are campaign multipliers. The Barbie campaign has dozens and dozens of partners who are using their own platforms and audiences (and, not incidentally, their own marketing dollars) to amplify Barbie’s messages. But these are also carefully chosen to offer additional consumer reach, whether through paid and earned media, in-store presence, or product sales, so they then become additional walking billboards for Barbie. I was particularly amused by the Barbie and Ken compliments feature on Bumble and the pool floats that help your backyard look like Barbie’s dream house. Barbie’s partners share her exuberant take on consumerism rather than being tools for more serious social commentary—which could have been a choice, given some of the content in the film. Imagine how differently we might think about the marketing if the partners included Emily’s List or Planned Parenthood. 

So, what can you learn from Barbie? Here are four secrets to her marketing success:

A Clear Guiding Principle. What’s the guiding principle for your outreach campaigns? Can you articulate and share it with your team to guide your strategies and tactical choices?

Strong Visual Brand. Do you have well-defined brand assets, and are they helping you stand out? If not, what can you do to strengthen them?

Consistent Tone. Does your communication have a unified and consistent tone? Can people tell from the tone alone if something comes from you? If you see gaps, how can you focus and clarify your tone? 

Productive Partnerships. How are you using partnerships? Are they helping multiply your messages and reach? Are they helping you reach new “customers”? If not, how can you make them do more work for you?