As I write this, it’s the Monday after opening weekend for “Barbie” the movie, and it’s the front page headline of Pop Culture…it scored $162 million domestically on its opening weekend, the largest US box office take on opening weekend in 2023. This didn’t just happen by accident. One of the younger women in the office who saw the movie said, “It made me wish I was a little girl again.”

According to a Variety report, Warner Brothers reportedly spent $150 million on marketing the flick. The movie cost $145 million to make, so doing that math, we’re at $295 million. Globally, Barbie brought home $337 million in its first weekend. And there are a few more weekends of theater play and repeat viewings, I’m sure. In a world where a DCU (DC Comics Universe) hero movie (The Flash), the final Indiana Jones movie of the franchise and even two lackluster MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) hero movies this year failed to catch this kind of fire, how did Barbie rise above them all?

Well, the infusion of cash for marketing didn’t hurt, but even more than the spend, was the broad creativity utilized overall in getting the word out about it. Because it was BROAD!


If we go back to 1959, the birth of the Barbie doll, ol’ Barb has never been a stranger to accessorizing (it’s how she was able to afford the Barbie Dreamhouse, right?). But dang, the merchandising of this film in advance has to be unprecedented. From doing a 1 of 1 pink Barbie X-box toy that Microsoft is giving away to one lucky person in a sweepstakes, to Barbie Crocs to Pasta di Martino just to name a few, the ability to conduct retail therapy while thinking Pink was as easy as tapping any of your social media or shopping apps and adding to cart, as there were reportedly over 100 merchandizing and collaboration efforts. If I may (carbon?) date myself, let’s revisit the Mel Brooks 80’s classic ‘Spaceballs’, where, as Star Wars parody character Yogurt said, “Merchandising, merchandising, where the REAL money from the movie is made…”


Burger King of Brazil created a pink gooey sauce which generated significant Barbie buzz. Airbnb created an actual Barbie Dreamhouse, fully accessorized with K, E and N floating tubes in the pool out front. For those who are old enough to date but still kids at heart, there was a Barbie/Bumble dating app feature which played into characters from the movie. While details aren’t readily available, I can’t imagine the Mattel Toy Company folks who own Barbie’s trademarks let all these collaborations happen for free. Cah-CHING!

Social Media

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I have many female friends that DIDN’T post something on social media about the movie in the weeks leading up to it. From IG Stories utilizing Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” song from the late 90s, to the Meme creator the Barbie marketing team set up several months ago, to wearing pink to the movie, to standing inside the Barbie box selfie photo op at the theater, to drinking pink drinks pre-gaming, one has to believe the organic social media presence created around this movie had to exceed the value of what the Barbie Marketing Team spent by at least a factor of 10. And that virility is something I’d take Realize, this happened while the writers and actors strikes were in full effect.


Of course, we can’t forget the viral brainchild internet sensation, “#Barbenheimer”. This was created as an event that encouraged people to see both the Barbie movie and Oppenheimer in the same weekend, even as a double feature. Oppenheimer, a heavy Oscar-worthy 3 hour biopic about the creator of the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer, couldn’t be further distanced in subject matter compared to Barbie. (A CNN reporter said, “See Oppenheimer first, save your dessert for after dinner…”). According to AMC representatives, at least 40,000 people pre-ordered tickets to both shows. I’m sure Regal, Cinemark and other movie multiplexes were significant beneficiaries to this brilliance too. While Barbie took in over $160 million, Oppenheimer exceeded its expected $50 million take and scored around $80 mil, a 60% bump. Not bad, Christopher Nolan!    

What can we learn

As marketers, we’ve always looked to make marketing campaigns hyper-focused on the intended target audience. And we still do because they work. But this multi-level, far-reaching all-formats Barbie Blitz utilizing highly creative tie-ins that don’t feel forced is living proof that one can be broad and wide-reaching and be highly successful too. The Barbie movie marketing team knew this, swung for the fences and scored a grand slam. Admittedly, they had a lot of ‘brand’ currency (and real currency), heritage and awareness working for them, since 1959, and they used that, starting with color. Not blush and bashful (Shelby’s wedding colors from Steel Magnolias, anyone? Yes, I’m a dude and don’t ask me how I know that) but PINK. If you wore pink over the weekend of July 21-23rd, you likely were referencing the Barbie brand. Everyone who saw you decked out in pink knew it too.

“Barbie Girl”, the song from Aqua, may as well have been a PR-company-produced jingle for the film, in spite of the fact that when the song came out in the late 90’s, Mattel sued them for trademark infringement and felt the song lyrics damaged the Barbie brand. It all ended up getting dismissed after several years of litigation. The original song itself isn’t used in the movie at all, nor is the original Aqua version on the soundtrack. The movie does incorporate a nod to Aqua’s version of the song, with Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice rapping over a sample of Aqua’s version of “Barbie Girl” in their song “Barbie World”.  But it feels like virally and organically Aqua’s song was used in nearly every IG Reel and Facebook story I saw, and a good jingle will keep your brand top of mind, even 25 years later…talk about unintentional brand retention!

Overall, the takeaway here is taking the ‘safe’ route and not taking chances with marketing is a recipe for mediocrity. If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you’ll end up exactly like everyone else or worse. Be fun, be creative, be original, be broad and don’t be afraid to take chances. You may just find that you’re operating your dream business. At CMOco, we Ken help! (Sorry, I just had to!)

– Bruce Thiem, CMOco Director of Integrated Media