Volume 17 No. 4: Unlocking high-impact marketing beyond Barbie

By now you’re probably tired of seeing articles on Barbie’s marketing brilliance.  

Because most “learnings” from the campaign don’t apply unless you have skyscraper-high brand awareness and tens of millions of dollars in marketing budget. 

But are there any lessons in this pink-hued campaign that all marketers could learn from? 

High-impact marketing on a budget

Each week, we break down another marketing concept so you can skip the hype and get directly to what works. 

With a staggering $150 million in spend, the Barbie movie’s marketing budget surpassed the cost of production. That $150 million was put to good use, invested in headline-grabbing partnerships like an all-pink Barbie Dreamhouse on Airbnb, branded boat cruises, and even a $1,350 Balmain cropped hoodie. 

It was worthwhile in the end. Barbie drove a whopping $1.34 billion at the global box office and drew attention back to Mattel’s Barbie products. Prior to the movie, Barbie brand sales were at their lowest in more than two decades.  

Naturally, such ground-breaking success drove so much buzz in marketing circles, it was impossible to not hear about the movie’s latest stunt. But for those without the budget of Barbie’s team (so... pretty much everyone), it seemed there weren’t many lessons to apply to one's own marketing plans. Tom Goodwin pointed this out in a LinkedIn post saying:

“Here’s what marketers can learn from Barbie’s marketing: 
Start with 99% brand awareness.
2. Do whatever you want."

But what if the core principles of Barbie’s strategy could be executed on a smaller level? The term “lightning strike” was coined by Category Pirates to refer to creating big moments for your brand by concentrating your marketing spend in a short period of time around a large, newsworthy initiative rather than spreading it across many smaller and less impactful marketing moves. Here’s how to start thinking about lightning strikes: 

  1. Prioritize value over volume. Let’s say you usually spend a low but steady amount on advertising throughout the year. What if, instead, you took that budget and concentrated on a two-week window around a major product launch? Would that concentrated campaign be more impactful long term? It would certainly have a better chance of standing out from competitive noise.

  2. Plan your moment. A successful lightning strike requires selecting the right moment, which should be based around a unique and newsworthy opportunity. Be patient and strategic, and wait for the right time to attract attention.

  3. Make the case for marketing as an investment in growth. That’s exactly what Barbie did by spending more on marketing than the very thing for which they were marketing. But for those with smaller budgets than Mattel, this isn’t just about spending more. It’s about shifting the mindset around marketing’s role in a business so that leadership is sold on going big when it matters most. 

Key Takeaway: While we might not all have the budget to paint the world pink, the principles behind Barbie's marketing success story are worth exploring. The goal isn't to spend more but to channel existing resources into impactful, strategic marketing moves that resonate.


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