How Barbie’s Marketing Campaign Could Have Made a More Socially Responsible Impact

Greta Gerwig gets it. She is completely transparent in the main trailer for her summer blockbuster “Barbie.”

After a pink-permeated glimpse of the doll’s idyllic plastic world in which things suddenly start to go awry, we read in an unmistakable glittery, rose-hued font the following invitation: “If you love Barbie, this movie is for you. If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.” The director is clearly covering all her bases in a film that generated a record-breaking $1 billion in worldwide box office sales in just 17 days — the first film soley directed by a woman to cross that box-office mark.

However, the same cannot be said of Warner Bro.’ mega marketing campaign. Oh sure, the marketing budget is thought to be in the realm of $100-plus million. In addition to the neon movie trailers, there have been tie-in promotions with companies as varied as the short term-rental behemoth Airbnb, Cold Stone Creamery ice cream and Zara clothing.

It’s no wonder brands are eager to be associated with the reimagined icon, given Gerwig’s career of embodying strong, quirky and independent characters (“Frances Ha”) or turning the camera on them, be they favorites from the classics (“Little Women”) or teens of a new generation (“Lady Bird”).

Building upon decades of growing representation (Malibu Barbie, Musician Barbie, Ida B. Wells Barbie, Día de los Muertos Barbie, Pediatrician Barbie, Firefighter Barbie), under Gerwig’s new guidance, there may indeed be a Barbie for all ages and persuasions.

A more expansive — and inclusive — Barbie marketing campaign

What a missed opportunity it is then that the studio’s only philanthropic endeavor seems limited to reminding folks of their 20-year partnership with Save the Children, including the 2018 Barbie Dream Gap Project, and “[encouraging] viewers to text ‘Barbie’ to 707070 and join WBD in supporting the work.

Instead, Warner Bros. Discovery could have embarked on a more horizontal charity campaign to highlight all the areas in which women are still working toward full and/or equitable social participation. Here are a few of the possibilities:

Women continue to be outnumbered in the sciences, so why not have the Hollywood executives join Barbie Space Discovery Astronaut in donating to the Society of Women Engineers (SWE)?

Chicken Farmer Doll Barbie likes to eat fresh, nutritious food just like the rest of us, so how about supporting the National Right to Food Community of Practice?

Barbie, by choice, is not a mother — but she is a babysitter!  What a great photo op it would have been to present a check to a pre- and postnatal care programs that especially benefits economically-disadvantaged rural and marginalized families.

And let’s not forget about Ken, because even though he’s male, he’s a Mattel member, too.  Why not give to a coalition that analyzes the efficacy of single-sex education for boys between the ages of 12 and 16, when research suggests male-only classrooms result in higher test scores?

It may be far-fetched to expect such altruism from movie production companies, especially in light of the current labor negotiations in which writers and actors are striking for basic job protections so that the majority of non-millionaire members can still earn a middle-class living.

On the other hand, why put the candy-colored convertible breaks on imagination, especially when it comes to envisioning a happier, fairer and (dare we say) more egalitarian place closer to Barbieland than our own? It may have The Blonde’s name on it, but isn’t hers a world where everybody has what they need, not only to survive, but to thrive?

Not everybody needs a Dreamhouse, but we all want a home. Imagine if the Barbie marketing machine strategically placed its momentum — and a percentage of ticket sales — behind funding housing for families in need? Designating scholarships in some of the 250-plus fields of study in which Barbie pursued a career?

Putting marketing where the meaning is would have turned this summer fantasy fare into some real-life impact. In Greta Gerwig’s near-perfect creative endeavor, isn’t that what Barbie would have done?

Dr. Laura Middlebrooks is the inclusivity liaison of the School of World Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University. Judi Crenshaw is the EID coordinator and an assistant professor at VCU’s Robertson’s School of Media and Culture. Virginia Commonwealth University is a top-tier R1 research institution located in Richmond, Va.

[Photo credit: hamara via adobe art]


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