Beyond the Dollhouse: PR Lessons from the Barbie Movie

August 29, 2023
By Angel Carolino

Confession: I grew up playing with robots. The kind that had TV screens for bellies and ate up four D-sized batteries in one weekend. The kind that banished me from all tea parties with my female cousins, but the kind that my male cousins thought was “cool”. Did I have Barbies? Sure, my one and only “weird” Barbie that very much resembled Kate McKinnon in the movie.  

I have nothing against Barbie, but I just wasn’t particularly looking forward to the movie. However, after being badgered with promotional and user-generated videos on of my social media apps over the last few months, I have to admit that it piqued my curiosity.  

Opening day came and Barbiemania took the virtual and real world by storm. I was prepared to let the pink fever boil over before watching it on the big screen, however, my nine-year-old daughter (who, coincidentally, also only ever had one Barbie doll herself), asked to see the movie ASAP, as she and her friends have been talking about it for weeks. So, I picked up the cheapest Barbie shirts I could find and went to the cinema on opening day weekend.  

Honestly, I was not expecting much and was prepared to see your run-of-the mill, kid-friendly story arc. But I came out of the theatre inspired, introspective, and curious. I was completely blindsided by the depth of themes interwoven into this vibrant tale. But as a PR practitioner, what I remain in awe of, to this day, is the marketing and PR genius that helped cement the movie’s cinematic legend status. 

This Barbie is a marketing genius  

In a world where storytelling is a currency, the Barbie movie effortlessly maneuvered its way into the spotlight not just through its cinematic charm, but also through a strategic orchestration of marketing and public relations: over 100 global brand partnerships, licensing deals and integrations to cash in on Barbiemania, over 1.7 million articles, broadcast and social mentions just from July 1st of this year, over 9 billion TikTok videos using the #Barbie hashtag viewed on the platform, and a slew of other out-of-the-box promotions like the 3D Barbie box installation in front of the Burj Khalifa and a real Malibu Dream House you can actually rent via AirBnB. 

This breadcrumb strategy behind the movie’s long-range marketing campaign did wonders in teasing audiences, igniting interest and sparking organic conversations. What’s intriguing is that the buzz created by this strategy wasn’t momentary. The movie was able to sustain the momentum and continued to gain popularity for months. It doesn’t stop at opening day, however, as people are still clearly talking about Barbiemania almost a month later. 

This Barbie is a multi-generational influencer 

The breadth and width of the Barbie marketing and PR playbook has set new standards for influencer marketing. Barbie’s marketing team ingeniously harnessed the power of a diverse array of influencers and content creators, not only to promote the movie, but also to champion the use of Barbie-themed products like makeup, clothing and shoes. In a generation where digital platforms reign supreme, they recognized that the key to reaching younger audiences lay in the hands of those who already held their attention. The result? A surge of organic engagement and resonance, seamlessly connecting the Barbie narrative with the evolving pulse of the digital natives. 

Another tactic worth mentioning is the intelligent use of an AI-powered poster generator that not only inspired thousands of memes and delivered free user-generated content, but also successfully captured the interest of another key demographic. According to UTA IQ’s Quarterly Report, 7-in-10 American Gen Z-ers and Millennials who expressed interest in seeing Barbie in theaters said its memes were among the reasons.  

I think the ace up Barbie’s pink sleeve lies within its vibrant legacy – a potent touch of nostalgia, which very few brands possess. The movie effectively capitalized on the enduring connections it has across generations, tapping into a reservoir of shared childhood memories and experiences, not only for Barbie aficionados, but to all those who have ever been enchanted by the magic of this iconic brand. 

The Barbie PR playbook stands out not just for its influencer marketing prowess, but also for its finesse in adeptly traversing the landscape of different targeted age groups. And it’s not just about reaching different demographics; it’s about speaking the language of each generation, echoing the resonance of nostalgia for some while capturing the zeitgeist of the digital era for others.  

This Barbie is not afraid of counterprogramming 

While most movies might shy away from sharing opening days with other highly anticipated releases, the Barbie movie stood its ground even in light of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer sharing the same release day. Rather than stepping back, both camps embraced the challenge, birthing an unexpected synergy dubbed as Barbenheimer.  

The result was a triumph in movie counterprogramming. Both movies outperformed initial box-office projections, surpassing expectations set for their opening weekend. In the U.S and Canada, Barbie achieved an impressive $22.3 million from Thursday night previews, while Oppenheimer garnered $10.5 million—a significant feat that marked the first instance where two films released in the same weekend garnering over $10 million individually in their previews.  

Barbie and Oppenheimer made their debuts at $162 million and $82.4 million respectively, cementing the Barbenheimer phenomenon’s role in heightening enthusiasm around the movies. The collective impact was palpable, with a striking 79% of tickets sold during the weekend (52% for Barbie and 27% for Oppenheimer) being attributed to these two films, totaling a remarkable audience of 18.5 million individuals.


As the credits roll and the lights fade, the Barbie movie’s impact continues to radiate, reminding us of PR’s transformative power. Beyond just the numbers, it’s the ingenious strategies and bold tactics within the campaign that push us to rethink what’s possible in the intersection of storytelling, cultural impact, and our capacity to drive change. It’s a beacon of brilliance, urging us all to elevate our expectations of what PR can achieve. 


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