Liquid Thinking

Barbie Bonanza

What can drinks brands learn from Barbie?

26th July 2023

The expertly crafted Barbie bombardment continues apace with everything from merchandise including collaborations with leading fashion brands to frozen yogurts, scented candles, and even carpets. Hell, even athletes interviewed at tournaments including ATP are being asked their views on the film on the tournament’s own official social channels. And as movie-goers of all ages and genders feverishly dress up to attend screenings of the film, as well as Barbie themed parties, we can’t help but watch with admiration at one of the most effective marketing campaigns we’ve seen in a while. So, what can drinks brands learn from it?

Barbie as a role model for the drinks world – who knew? In fact, it seems we’re all living in a Barbie world. As the movie goes on to break box office records in its opening week, social media channels fill to the brim with Barbie content, grown people of all genders attend parties where they dress as Barbie, and it seems the whole world is turning pink, it’s clear to see we’re witnessing one of the most effective multi-channel marketing campaigns we’ve seen in a good while. People are nuts for Barbie, and all things Barbie-related.

So what are the lessons drinks brands can take from it?

1. Take a risk

It’s brave of Mattel to let creatives take its intellectual property and do what they want with it, poking fun at the corporate monster. Not only do they play a character in the movie, they are not portrayed in the most flattering light.

It looks like Mattel is embracing transparency. “I honestly can’t believe that they let us do what we did,” says writer and director, Greta Gerwig. “It’s a miracle they let us do this. There’s no reason to do it if we’re just making a commercial for it. You guys [Mattel] sell lots of dolls. You do not need that to sell a doll. So, unless you’re interested in doing it this way, that’s fine.”

As well as framing the film where it is corporate America vs the patriarchy, the film also explores various missteps by the brand over the years, not least through shining a strong spotlight on the products it launched that didn’t work, that were essentially, a lack of good judgement. “I really loved the deep dive into all the discontinued Barbies and realising that they actually made those dolls,” says the film’s star, Margot Robbie. “There’s been some false moves over the years, but I think including that was an important part of the story.”

In doing all of this, Mattel appears very self-aware, appears brave, appears in on the joke, if there are any jokes to be pitched against it. Yes, the sell, sell, sell is there, and consumers know their place in the corporate machine is to buy, buy, buy. But Barbie gives consumerism heart.

We don’t imagine large corporations to want to embrace transparency. So, when they appear to do so, it definitely stands out. It’s a shrewd move for Mattel to invite consumers to look behind the curtain, to drop the fourth wall in their relationship with them, and laugh at themselves while doing it. Are they really being transparent? No. But are we as consumers are more inclined to trust them and view them favourably as being a little bit radical for appearing to do so? Yes.

2. Pick a nemesis

The rush to the box office this week has been framed as a symbiotic rivalry with Oppenheimer. Neither film is squaring up to the other directly, but both films are benefiting from being compared to each other when it comes to how different they both are. One is lofty, intellectual, suspenseful, and intense. The other is bright, fun, and optimistic. It’s pink frivolous fun, but with an important social message. Both films are shown in their best light, are showing their best assets, by being compared to their very opposite. And naturally, once they’ve seen one, consumers now feel compelled to see the other to complete their experience.

It's hard to organically created a friendly rivalry that doesn’t feel forced. But it’s a noteworthy lesson for brands on how to let their points of difference shine, without forcing it. You can illustrate what you are, by what you are not.

3. Immerse people fully in your brand world

The film’s many activations and marketing pushes have recreated Barbie’s world and invited consumers into it. It has tapped into a youthful culture, but in a grown-up, nostalgic way, where we’re allowed to be a little carefree for a while.

From screenings to brand partnerships, idealistically stylised worlds have been readily available for consumers to step into. Even magazine covers, such as an edition of People in the US, have seen the brand swallow it whole, with everything from the font to the tone of voice, taking on the Barbie world.

One of the great powers of Barbie, is that it’s done the leg work already in terms of telling consumers what that brand world looks like. Consumers are automatically aware of when something looks Barbie-esque, without the need for a brand name. As such, it makes it very easy for consumers to participate in it and signal to others that they are doing so, by doing something as simple as wearing pink.

Barbie allows room for multiple identities. She is in many ways a blank canvas for consumers to project themselves onto. That’s something which has long been built into the brand, even if the beauty standards the doll has set are impossible and have often been heavily criticised. Creating a space for consumers to see themselves in the brand, is something it’s shrewdly leveraging now.

4. Be fun

The allure of stepping into this world for consumers is the permission it gives them to be playful, without judgement. Perhaps one of the film’s biggest successes has been how it has reached out to its lapsed consumers who felt the brand was no longer relevant to them, or their values. This is pink frivolous fun, but with an important social message that grown consumers of all ages and genders are supposed to care about. In other words, it’s guilt free, because the pink frivolous fun, isn’t really that frivolous.

Pink after all is a colour loaded with political and social significance. And what the film has taken great pains to do is reposition Barbie as a radical figure in social equality, even if that’s only a half truth. She may have been radical and trailblazing once, but a look back at a decade or more of launches have shown the brand to be responsive to cultural change – and not even that fast or effectively – rather than leading it.

However, the suggestion of renewed societal awareness from the brand has been a major factor in helping to resuscitate it for those aged over 10, positioning it as relevant and exciting once again, yes. More masterfully than that though, it suggests that it’s always been relevant and exciting, but you’ve just forgotten it.

5. But have depth

Barbie has lacked relevance and failed to move with the times at numerous points in the brand’s history. But by tapping into identity politics and the dominance of the patriarchy, Gerwig has tapped into the doll’s revolutionary roots to remind people that the brand has hitherto been at the forefront. The creation of the doll itself as a fully formed woman, when all dolls before been depicted as babies, was revolutionary in its time. So was the fact that Barbie was depicted as an astronaut that had gone to space, long before women in the US were legally allowed credit cards.

The film smartly navigates the brand away from not just a blank canvas of femininity that Barbie has been accused of representing, but also the unrealistic beauty standards that have seen the doll knocked for being the opposite of a feminist icon. Where are the headlines now of how, due to her proportions, if Barbie were a real woman, she’d fit the weight criteria for anorexia, likely wouldn’t menstruate, and have to walk on all fours? Science says so.

In the film, Barbie has found new causes to rally around. But smartly points out that actually, to this brand, they’re not that new at all.

6. Expand the experience

What’s truly impressive about the domination of all things Barbie right now, is how far the brand has taken its franchising. Yes, there’s nail polish, and home furnishings, and hair care products; all things that make sense in the Barbie world, and essentially make a toy aimed at young girls relevant and desirable to grown adults. In other words, these partnerships are key for pulling in consumers outside of the core product’s target market, with brand extensions that are relevant to them.

However, Mattel has gone one step further. In this red-hot moment for the brand, the film and its frank if not stylised look at modern society and gender roles through the lens of both nostalgia and idealism, has allowed it to interact with grown consumers where they’re at. That’s right, Barbie is on the dating apps. The brand has partnered with Bumble to help consumers be “the best date ever”, courtesy of a little dating advice. And the creation of a real-world Dream House that consumers can rent through Airbnb, let’s them live that plastic fantastic life in the real world, with all the Instagram content to prove it.

Consumers may have aged out of the core physical product. But these new line extensions and partnerships give them a new way to shop within it, in a way that’s relevant to their lives now. Would Mattel have been able to reach consumers in this way before the film? Maybe. But it would have felt a little hack.

Interested in finding out more about what this might mean for you and your business?

Please contact us at or 0207 101 3933