Barbie's PR Playbook: Lessons in Mystery, Memes, and Media Domination
The Barbie movie is undoubtedly this summer’s blockbuster hit, with resounding success at the box office and with fans going to see the film multiple times. However, besides successfully causing a worldwide shortage of pink paint, it was also a PR success. In fact, the movie’s PR strategy will likely be studied for years to come.
However, we at Propel have found a few key takeaways from the Barbie playbook that you can use in your pitching campaign.
Keep the Mystery
One of the most interesting parts of the Barbie campaign was how little we knew about the movie going in. Of course, the PR and marketing team let us know who would play Barbie and Ken, but they kept the rest of the cast under wraps, slowly introducing them to us in marketing material as the release date came closer. In addition to that, no one really knew what the plot of the movie was actually about until the film was released, and everyone started talking about it.
The most visible strategy for this is sending pitches for press releases under embargo, but it can really be applied to any pitching campaign. When pitching someone in the media - be they a journalist at a mainstream publication, a podcaster, a freelancer, or an influencer - give them enough information that you pique their interest, but leave enough out that they want to know more. This isn’t a call to pull a “bait and switch” on journalists to trick them into writing a story for you (absolutely NEVER do this), but get them interested enough that they’ll interview your organization for more information.
Make it Fun for Everyone, No Matter How Unexpected
One of the more unexpected parts of the Barbie PR campaign was its pairing with the movie Oppenheimer, a serious movie about the construction of the nuclear bomb - the farthest thing possible from the light-hearted Barbie movie. Typically, no PR team would try to cater to another potential audience so different from their own. But with the number of memes juxtaposing the two movies, which were released on the same day, the Barbie team (and, of course, the Oppenheimer team) created buzz around the “event” of the summer - i.e., seeing both movies back to back.
Therefore, when making an announcement, turn up the media hype to 11. Make it an event that people and journalists look forward to. It could be anything from the release of a white paper to a new product announcement, but make it fun, exciting, and positive. Also, don’t be afraid to partner with another organization to drive buzz surrounding your announcement or pitch. Sometimes two heads are wiser than one.
The amount of media results that the Barbie movie obtained was incredible. Sure, they might have had a lot of help given Barbie's fame, but we must give credit where credit is due. It wasn’t Barbie’s name alone that snagged the brand over 250,000 media results throughout 2023! But all of this media was instrumental in Barbie’s success. They were everywhere, and most importantly, they were able to stay top of mind for everyone.
Your organization’s reach is crucial to PR success. However, you can’t send the same boring messages and pitches to journalists each time you reach out. You must constantly work to achieve results and never rest on your laurels. To ride the news wave, you need to ensure that you stay top of mind for both the public and the journalists, so much so that when they have a question about a topic one of your organizations is specialized in, the journalists come to YOU.
The cultural phenomenon that was the Barbie movie will surely be studied for years to come, especially as Mattel creates its own cinematographic universe. It will be interesting to see how the company keeps us intrigued enough to make us want to go watch other toy and game-based movies (Hasbro is coming out with a Monopoly movie and is creating a Barbie Monopoly game).
We will definitely be watching both.