So much about Barbie – both the toy and the movie – “mirrors” (a great word used in a recent New York Times article) what it is like to be a woman, or yes, even a man, in the world today. As a designer, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when the first marketing design brief was shared. With an iconic global brand like Barbie, so much groundwork is already laid; history, competition and culture has been archived and can be utilised at the right time, using the right approach. A simple case of waiting for the swell and riding the wave, preferably on a pink surfboard.
When I went with my “nearly 13” year old (“Still a month to go, Mama!”) to watch it, I had already been ‘Barbiefied’ online by the likes of the Barbie Airbnb followed by Aldo, Beis, Forever 21, Zara and NYX collections to name a few, and had participated in a rousing discussion on the viral trending of a Pantone Barbie Pink. Collaborative brand alliances are on fire right now in the design world and who better to do it than Barbie, harnessing the power of women, nostalgia and shared experiences? Pink Krispy Kremes that must taste better if had with other Barbies, ‘Barbie CAN’ replacing the word station on the London Underground’s signs adding a smile to her day, Pink UNO, Crocs and an HGTV Barbie Dreamhouse Makeover challenge that no one can resist, and even Xbox coming on board to give gaming a whole new vibe (and market) are just the tip of the collaborative iceberg.
Covering an array of trending “marketable topics” from blatant consumerism to the invisible labour of women, the feminist manifesto to the friend zone, and being stuck in the terminology of old times as the world moves ahead, Barbie the movie also nails Millennial and Gen Z speak. And by weaving in the irrepressible ‘adulting’ aspect of life, it neatly ropes in anyone who has felt the angst, either as a parent or as a teenager themselves of surviving in a world that puts perfection (and men) on a pedestal. The best part? The smartly written dialogue, the juxtaposition of a Barbie world vs Barbie in a human world makes it impossible to disagree with or deny the majority of truth bombs dropped in the film's 1 hour 54 minutes’ runtime, making this brand – which was teetering on a dangerous precipice – top of mind yet again, this time with a whole new set of relevant conversations.
Barbie has since its inception stood for and about so much that it’s hard to nutshell it, from the “you can be anything” to the “you don’t have to look like this” to the “but maybe you want to." Other brands have both aligned and dissociated themselves with it, depending on how the world swayed, which is why there was no surprise that bright, colourful collaborations were the way forward when it came to promoting this much-awaited movie. While there has been a healthy amount of criticism around the Barbie brand calling out its push of unhealthy beauty standards (tall, fair, thin girl rishta anyone?) perfection and consumerism, the film somehow also aligns with what is happening today so seamlessly that the marketing team probably nudged the wheels in motion and sat back with their coffee, watching the world explode pink, as more names, trends and conversations jumped on board, both officially and unofficially, fearing missing out on the Barbie campervan party.
The movie will surprise most who have assumed this will feed an existing narrative around the brand. It starts off with the Barbie perfection for sure but then slides smoothly down a spiral into real life. One doesn’t think they will ever relate to the stereotypical Barbie, but as the movie progresses, we do empathise with her, root for her, and eventually cheer her journey back to ‘perfection’ but this time, it’s the human kind – flawed and with cellulite.
A final clap here for the well thought out tagline that ties it all up in a bow, including the fans yes, but also challenging the haters with a tongue-in-cheek “If you loved Barbie go watch it. If you hated Barbie, go watch it.”
Sara Jamil is a career freelance designer and currently also teaches typography at IVS. firstname.lastname@example.org