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August 11, 2023

Barbie & the Era of Interactive Marketing

Post By:
Patricia Alexis
In-House Contributor
The Daily Drip
Guest Contributor:

If this summer has seemed more pink than usual, you aren’t imagining things. The promotional team behind the blockbuster film of the summer, Barbie, has been widely praised for successfully permeating culture-- effectively turning our collective “Real World” into its very own Barbieland.

It doesn’t take a nine-figure marketing budget to tap into this genius, and it doesn’t even take aggressive color-blocking (although, for fans of the Barbiecore aesthetic, it certainly helps). It’s actually way more accessible than any of that. 

So, what makes Barbie the poster child for effective marketing in the 21st century?

While it certainly hits the mark for some of the most powerful modern marketing trends, such as brand collaboration and nostalgia marketing, there is an even more critical ingredient involved to build mindshare in a hybrid world.

Welcome to the era of interactive marketing.

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What is interactive marketing?

Interactive marketing is a marketing tactic that allows audiences to engage with content through images, visuals, or other modalities. This tactic is also sometimes called experiential marketing. It is no longer enough for us to merely be consumers; we want to be participants.

Whether an experience is achieved through a physical space or a virtual one, interactive marketing plays to a core human desire. After all, we all want to be seen-- or, perhaps more accurately, understood. From in-person events to viral dance trends and memes, modern audiences want to insert themselves into the narrative. And when that narrative belongs to a brand, there is no faster (or more cost-effective) way to create meaningful touchpoints.

While this marketing trend isn’t “new,” it’s never been more relevant. Our world is only becoming more digital, and our industries more saturated; it’s safe to say that interactive marketing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

How did Barbie nail it?

From its inception, Barbie tapped into a phenomenon almost all of us fall prey to: FOMO. The film’s plot was kept tightly under wraps, with little to speculate on besides a star-studded cast and a female director hell-bent on subverting expectations. This promotional “breadcrumbing” by way of cryptic trailers and teaser posters fueled months of suspense and guesswork.

By the time the official cast posters arrived, so did the crowning jewel of Barbie’s marketing strategy: an AI-powered Barbie selfie generator. Suddenly, audiences had the ability to see themselves as any Barbie (or Ken) they wanted to be. Millions of users superimposed their image onto a bold, glittery template, proudly declaring statements of self-identification. “This Barbie is a business owner!” “This Barbie is a working mom!” “This Barbie is running a marathon!”

As with many viral internet moments, the engaging trend quickly catapulted to meme-status. People (and even brands) couldn’t resist the urge to participate, as the idea of Barbie being “everything” took on a tongue-in-cheek twist. “This Barbie is late to the carpool line… again.” “This Barbie needs six cups of coffee to function.” “This Barbie is figuring it out.”

Whether they knew it or not, by interacting with this trend (even ironically), users set the stage for what the Barbie movie would ultimately prove to become: a bitingly self-aware romp through idealism and reality, where both our dreams and flaws are inextricable parts of the human experience.

How can I leverage interactive marketing for my business?

If you don’t have the six-plus-decades’ worth of brand recognition that Barbie does, don’t worry-- most of us don’t. Even still, the brilliance of interactive marketing is both accessible and applicable for your business.

  • Understand your target audience. Barbie’s marketing campaign resonated with children and adults alike as potential consumers, paying special attention to the female demographic- mothers and daughters. By understanding the specific needs and preferences of your audience, you can craft messages and experiences that will draw them to your brand.
  • Develop interactive content. The Barbie marketing team didn’t stop at memes; they sprinkled movie theaters around the world with life-sized plastic boxes and splashy pink backdrops, giving audiences an excuse to take (and share) pictures dressed in pink. For your business, interactive content can take a number of forms: games, quizzes, videos, and pop-up events, to name a few. The only limit is your brand’s authenticity and your own imagination!
  • Encourage user participation. Barbie proudly prompted users to turn themselves into their very own Barbie using AI. Likewise, you can design your interactive marketing campaign to actively involve users. Encourage them to share their experiences and opinions; let them see themselves in relation to your brand.
  • Lean into social media. Barbie’s best promotion didn’t come from its movie trailers; it came from the inescapable wave of pink on everyone’s Instagram feed, urging their entire network to do the same. (Remember FOMO? Works every time.) Amplify your interactive marketing efforts by encouraging social sharing, creating viral campaigns, and leveraging influencer partnerships to reach a wider audience.
  • Tell a story. The story of Barbie, far beyond any movie plot, is that women can be intelligent, competent, and well-respected-- and unapologetically feminine. By prioritizing storytelling in your interactive marketing campaign, you can draw consumers into your brand’s narrative while simultaneously elevating it. As they become a part of your story, they tell it to others, who also want to be part of it. From there, your brand connects emotionally with consumers and gains traction organically.

In short, interactive marketing doesn’t work because of Barbie. It works because of people. People want the experience. We are so often stuck behind a screen that the most successful ventures are those that allow us to be a part of something.

It’s a little bit sad and beautiful all at once-- kind of like being human. And, yes…. kind of like Barbie.