Barbie would have made 77% less revenue if its event marketing strategy hadn't been so good

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie has made history by becoming the highest-grossing film in Warner Bros’ history in the United States, overtaking Christopher Nolan’s 2008 film The Dark Knight.

The film has surpassed $537.5 million at the domestic US box office to take the record, and earned a staggering $1.2 billion across the worldwide box offices, making it the first film by a solo female director to pass the billion mark.

It was described as a ‘record-breaking’ box office success during its opening weekend and set the record for any film that was not a sequel, remake, or superhero property.

Of course, the film itself, which is a two-hour-long sequence of life lessons, humourous guffaws, and pink aesthetics with a stellar cast, did a good chunk of the legwork. But the real pinnacle of the movie’s success was its meticulously-perfect marketing blueprint. 

Particularly the captivating crescendo of its in-person event strategy.

According to studies, event marketing efforts can generate as much as 338% more revenue than traditional advertising. 

Why? Because real-life engagements can solidify brand presence and drive excitement as well as boost sales with 79% of event-goers asserting a heightened inclination towards purchases after experiencing event marketing campaigns.

In Barbie's case, this formula would suggest that the box office revenue would have only stood at around $272 million without its in-person activations.

And whilst it is likely that the film would have made more than this as a result of nostalgia driving sales, it does leave room for thought when it comes to the power of event marketing.

In this article:

Top Examples Of Barbie’s Event Marketing Strategy

It has felt like we’ve been living in a Barbie world for the past couple of months, with it being almost impossible to escape the incessant pinkness in the media, online, and in the shops. 

From the London Eye dressing in Barbie’s signature colour to the Barbican tube station being renamed Barbiecan and a pink Tardis also appearing at Tower Bridge, the movie’s marketing team has really been working overtime.

But what are some of the most powerful in-person events that had such a big impact on its success?

Barbie LA Premiere

The film rolled out on the pink carpet at Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall in Los Angeles on 7th July 2023, with the goal to “create 'Barbie Land” by bringing the worlds and environments you see in the film into a format that would work and fit on an arrivals carpet,” said Gillian Deeds, senior producer at 15|40, the production company behind the event.

The guest flow and experience were extremely important to the success of the event. Why wouldn’t they be when the event was key to generating excitement and raising awareness about the movie?

“Warner Bros. wanted to ensure that the 400 fans fit in view areas on the carpet and were provided some of the best viewpoints to see the action as it unfolded once the night started,” she explained. “Additionally, we spent time with the scenic team and our partners and collaborators at Warner Bros. to ensure that the pinks were correct, and if they needed to be custom, we made them custom.”

The in-person, glitzy event certainly succeeded in its goal to drive awareness, with the media covering the event in over 2,200 articles to date. Organic coverage as a result of the buzz was worth around $28.1 million in advertising rate equivalent.

Barbie Dream House on Airbnb

In today’s increasingly digital world, in-person events can go a long way in creating the sense of community that we often lack online. 

The idea to create a real-life Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse was a remarkable platform that fosters connections and a sense of belonging. How? Because it was actually available to rent on Airbnb. And as opposed to the red carpet - or pink in this case - movie premieres, it was available and open to anyone.

Aptly located in sunny Malibu, the oceanfront mansion offered everything you'd expect of a plastic-fantastic paradise: an outdoor disco floor, an infinity pool - complete with a slide from the upper floor of the house - and a pink, shell-shaped bed.

Even though it wasn’t wholly accessible, as there were only actually two free one-night stays up for grabs, the invitation and the albeit-small chance to be involved in the phenomenon was enough to cause a stir. 

And quite a stir, it was.

The campaign was covered by the likes of Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour magazine, House&Garden, and CNBC. 

Around 14,000 media articles actually reference the activation in some capacity, thus highlighting just how much of a community it was able to foster.

Pride Events

One of the film’s key messaging is that everyone should be free to be who they are, which is communicated in their portrayal of Allan.

Almost immediately he is introduced as an outlier - someone who doesn’t fit the perfect mould of the world he inhabits.

A doll who doesn’t seem to fit in Barbieland, but everyone agrees belongs there.

Allan represents many of us, those who don’t always feel that they fit in, which is reflected in the price of those long-rejected Allan dolls spiking on eBay according to TMZ.

To really solidify the message of being true to ourselves, no matter what, Barbie supported a number of Pride events in different cities including Los Angeles and New York.

The parade float, headed up by Barbie cast members and LGTBQ+ icons Alexandra Shipp and Scott Evans, was adorned with a massive Barbie logo and release date plastered on the front, as well as disco balls and baskets of Barbie and Pride flag logos.

Josh Goldstine, the president of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros, spoke to the Guardian about the film’s involvement in gay pride events, saying: “We had an amazing float, we had roller skaters. We embraced that affinity group. One of the things this movie did really well is that it allowed people to feel seen. I think the audience rewarded that by showing up. We got a tremendous amount of gay male support for the film.”

In-Person Events As A Marketing Channel

Of course, not all marketing teams will have the same multi-million budget, but we can still extract valuable marketing lessons from the Barbie effect.

The (pink and plastic) key? Pursuing more experiential marketing opportunities.

Four in five (80%) organisers identify in-person events as their organisation’s most impactful marketing channel, according to a study conducted this year. 

But why, you might be asking?

Getting the right people in one room

With the right promotion, targeting strategy and event technology, events allow you to target a hyper-specific group of people and bring them together in one physical place. 

Hyper-specific, because success is not filling a room, but instead filling a room with people who are already interested in your product, service or mission. 

A room full of people who already have a vested interest is why 85% of brands reported a significant increase in product/service sales after hosting a live event marketing campaign, according to research.

In Barbie’s case, this was getting the all-star cast and other famous faces into one room at its numerous film premieres and after-parties around the world. 

Getting the right people in one room will help to generate earned media coverage and drive excitement for the release of the film amongst the masses.

Fostering a sense of community

Further to getting the right people in one room, one of the biggest strengths of event marketing is its ability to foster community amongst attendees, building relationships between a brand and its customers in our increasingly digital world. 

Providing consumers with a real-life platform to engage with one another helps to create a meaningful brand community.

Digging beneath their pink facade, the reason that Barbie’s events strategy worked so well is that experiential marketing creates an emotive link between the product and the customer base. 

It immerses consumers in a unique human experience where they’re treated like people and not just customers. It also unites people from diverse cultural backgrounds and celebrates the beauty of togetherness.

Unlike traditional marketing, Barbie event-goers or watchers weren’t passive recipients of marketing. They were actively involved in the process, part of a community, making them feel a connection to the movie.

Prompting authentic user-generated content

When you create a community, people feel compelled to share that they are part of something, prompting user-generated content.

For example, we would bet that there isn’t one person reading this who hasn’t had their social media feed populated by images of friends or family posing inside a human-sized pink toy box at the cinema over the last couple of months. 

Experiences like this not only foster a sense of being part of something, but they’re easily shareable.

User-generated content helped the Barbie movie stay in social media feeds / UKinUSA

And more than just spreading awareness, user-generated content also bolstered trust with consumers perceiving it as 2.4 times more authentic than branded content according to studies. All the more important when the significance of authenticity is at an all-time high - 90% of consumers say it is important when deciding which brands they like and support.

User-generated content derives from genuine experiences and personal perspectives, and people often view their peers as more trustworthy sources of information than traditional advertising or marketing channels.

Alongside building trust, it also allows you to organically access people you normally wouldn’t be able to reach as consumers are reaching them for you.

Taking Event Marketing To The Next Level

So, regardless of whether you’re marketing a billion-dollar revenue movie or not, we now know how and why in-person events can be such a powerful marketing event strategy.

But, how can we take these from a basic level to plastic-fantastic?

The majority (78%) of marketers champion the combination of digital marketing within their event marketing strategies to achieve success - just as the user-generated content discussed above underlines.

You’ll be able to reach more people with your event message, even those who cannot attend in person, but you can also engage with your in-person audience before, during, and after your event. 

Ahead of the release, Barbie created a tool where people could create their own Barbie-like posters with their own photos and catchphrases. Not only did it involve the growing trend of AI and widespread sharing, but it also put their audience at the centre of attention. 

Their human-sized pink toy boxes, placed in pretty much all cinemas, engaged movie-watchers during the event, as they stood and posed inside them, and also afterwards when they shared them on social media for friends, family, and the world to see.

So, if we’ve learnt one thing from the Barbie hysteria over the last few months, other than that the world really loves pink, it’s the immense power and potential of real-life events as a marketing strategy.

As we’ve explored through the world of plastic, event marketing can effectively increase sales, boost brand awareness, and establish and nurture lasting relationships with audiences.

Event Marketing comes to life at IBTM World

And why do we care so much about event marketing?

Well, we’ve actually just launched a new Event Marketing stream at IBTM this year with keynotes and sessions from those at the top of their field.

All curated for Event Marketers to help equip and inspire them to deal with the unique and current challenges that they’re facing.

Take your place at IBTM World by getting your ticket for this year's event.

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