Brand Barbie

Lizzie Hutchison explains why the advertising industry should learn from the pinkest film in history.

Two films* are coming out on July 21st, but only one of them has won at publicity. It’s pink. It’s shiny. And it’s got more merch than I’ve got emotional baggage. The Barbie movie is coming to a cinema near you, and I bet you can’t name a person on this planet who doesn’t know it. This is PR at its best. 

The press team should be knighted for their dedication to the cause. There is literally nothing left ‘unbarbied’. They have teased us with trailers, filters, collabs, pool-floats, Xboxes, ice-cream, and even A-LIFE-SIZED-RENTABLE-DREAMHOUSE. Andrew Mukamal – Margot Robbie’s stylist, has not slept on the job. He’s dressed her in a plethora of pleasingly pink outfits, and kept it fresh by recreating costumes from bygone Barbie dolls. *Chef’s kiss.* As Robbie tends to play it safe on the red carpet, it’s nice to see her kicking up her (pink, stiletto) heels, on the world tour. She looks like she’s having a great time, be that genuine or contractually mandated. 

What makes this all so successful, and what the team seem to have leant into, is the sense of fun. The snippets of film that we’ve been toying with (wahey) look like they’ve been directed with Greta Gerwig’s customary sense of humour. Ironic, but not scathing. Which has helped bring Barbie into 2023. Historically, Barbies are somewhat of a contentious subject. I – naturally – was a huge fan and played with them way after it was cool. But then I’ve also dressed like one ever since, so there is some margin for error in my judgement. I can completely appreciate that the dolls could be seen to promote a particular beauty standard to children, and that’s obviously not ok. 

Which is why I’m glad that although yes, they’ve cast the classically beautiful Robbie in the role of the doll, the film is careful to have many ‘Barbies’ with different physical appearances. It’s diverse and inclusive, which is as important to convey in advertising as it is film. All little girls should be seeing themselves represented as a Barbie, even if she is wearing more glitter than most Pride floats. 

I believe much is made of the Barbies having jobs, which shifts the focus from their appearance onto their opportunities, and in doing so, creates a more interesting story. Ken however, does not. The film’s tagline ‘She’s everything, he’s just Ken’ subverts the ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype associated with Barbie, although possibly strays into misandry. Not one for the sensitive, I guess. 

But for the advertising creatives among us, it’s imaginative. The film’s set design and costuming suggests we’re about to embark on a whimsical adventure, that’s the right side of reality. Gerwig’s level of attention to detail is enough to satiate the most pernickity of Art Directors, even invoking a global shortage of the perfect pink paint. It’s all designed to create a sense of “authentic artificiality”. And if that isn’t a metaphor for advertising, then stick me in a Dreamhouse and call me Ken. 

*The other is Oppenheimer. Or Oppen-part-timer-in-the-PR-stakes if you will.