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.
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.
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.
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.
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.