The PR Power of ‘Barbie’

By Danielle Gober, Account Strategist — Otter PR 

Barbie captured the world’s attention, and her public relations triumph is still going strong. She garnered a full slate of public appearances, a hit music album, a third-quarter sales boost of 16 percent for Mattel, and a billion-dollar box office hit that became Warner Brothers’ highest-earning theatrical release of all time.

As a PR specialist and devoted Barbie fan, I can’t help touting the takeaways from this public relations powerhouse. We know PR is all about finding a brand’s story, message, and audience, but it’s always a thrill to see it in action.

Barbie’s PR power rests on her authentic message

The PR power behind the “Barbie” film is epic. Visibly noticeable as it turned the tide of fashion, the Barbie craze is truly a revolution!

The PR success of “Barbie” is grounded in a compelling story and an authentic message, making the movie a PR push for Barbie, rather than just a simple marketing stunt. The first step in understanding the “Barbie” movie’s PR brilliance involves realizing that public relations and marketing are two distinct disciplines.

In a nutshell, public relations is the practice of managing how the general public views an organization, person, or product. Marketing’s objective, on the other hand, is to increase brand sales. While the impact of marketing is short-lived, a well-executed PR campaign leaves a lasting impression.

“Barbie” had an authentic message for its audience, and as anyone in PR or marketing can tell you, sincerity stands out. When brands are thoughtful and authentic, they impact their audience profoundly. The story told and the message expressed dictate the success of a PR strategy.

The “Barbie” movie influenced the media’s trajectory for weeks. It’s hard to recall the last time the nation was collectively so obsessed with seeing a movie. In the wake of the film, branded merch and pitches with slogans such as “This Barbie is a lawyer” or “How to know you’re Kenough” got the media’s attention — all of which got (and kept) people talking about it.

Barbie’s PR power is fueled by a passionate target audience

“Barbie” shows us the incredible impact of public relations in action. The right message to the right audience at the right time explains the film’s phenomenal success.

Clearly, director Greta Gerwig (who, personally, is my favorite director!) and the whole ensemble knew they were shooting for women and girls. Among the theatergoers who attended Barbie’s movie, 66.2 percent were female, and 74.6% were under the age of 29. This demographic heard Barbie’s message loud and clear. No one accused the movie of catering, pandering, or patronizing to make a buck.

The genuine female focus was a breath of fresh air. Not enough people tap into female energy. Society at large tends to be male-focused, making things women like or want feel “silly.”

“Barbie” turned the tables on stereotypical movie tropes. The film portrayed Ken as desperate for Barbie’s attention, while Barbie failed to notice. It showed Ken as wanting more of a voice, while Barbie ignored him.

Even the PR campaign after the movie played into that idea. In one press tour, Ryan Gosling received multiple questions about Margot Robbie’s fashionable pink wardrobe and simply responded, “I’m just Ken.” A world was created around the movement, and it crossed over into real life.

The Barbie campaign was a launch point for women to feel more open about expressing their likes and interests. For example, some women used to think that the hype around Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour came across as silly or juvenile. Many decided to stop feeling ashamed for being invested in Taylor as a person when Barbie put the spotlight on the validity of women’s interests.

When PR campaigns feature marginalized groups solely to check a box, they fail to connect with the target audiences and often even hurt the brand’s reputation. Consumers never fail to uncover such deceitful tactics.

On the other hand, “Barbie” shows us that reaching out to historically underserved and strongly invested groups with a targeted and authentic message can inspire a flood of gratitude and devotion. As the movie recognized and promoted underrepresented perspectives, it strengthened relationships and created new opportunities for brand growth.

PR encompasses far more than talking to the media and distributing press releases. Barbie delivers consistent authenticity throughout her messaging and even her pink wardrobe. She harnesses the power of PR, and now everyone is talking.