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How did Barbie do it? Warner’s head of marketing on creating a ‘pink movement’ | Barbie

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From the first viral photos of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling roller-blading along Venice Beach as Barbie and Ken, it was clear that Greta Gerwig’s new Barbie movie was going to be a sensation.

But Barbie has outperformed all expectations, breaking box office records for the most commercially successful film by a female director, bringing in more than $356m (£276m, A$527m) worldwide during its opening weekend, and another $50m in tickets on Monday and Tuesday alone. Barbie’s long plastic legs are bestriding the world like a colossus, while more macho summer action films like Mission Impossible are left searching for audiences in her shadow.

The film has launched alongside more than a hundred bright pink branding deals, from Barbie sparkles on Google search results to Barbie-endorsed home insurance to a sold-out line of Barbie Crocs, and inspired crowds of moviegoers to show up in matching costumes.

How did Barbie do it? Josh Goldstine, the president of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros, spoke to the Guardian about the film’s unconventional marketing strategy, the rise of Barbenheimer, and what the power of the pink purse may teach other film studios. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

You sent the message that Barbie may not be what viewers would expect from the start. One of the early teaser trailers was a homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, showing girls in a prehistoric desert playing with baby dolls, and then smashing those dolls on rocks after a giant Barbie appears. You’ve said publicly that it was one of the most debated pieces of marketing you’ve ever worked on. Tell us more.

It broke the mold in terms of the images that first come to mind when thinking about a Barbie movie. That scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey is the dawn of man, and the idea of using Barbie as a replacement for the iconic monolith – it was sophisticated, in that it was a reference to a Kubrick movie from the 60s. It was saying, “We’re going to boldly go where you don’t expect a Barbie movie to go.” There were people in the department, colleagues, that said: “Woah, movie marketing doesn’t usually challenge you in that way.”

A protester takes part in a demonstration demanding that Peruvian President Dina Boluarte call for immediate presidential elections in Lima, Peru, on 22 July 2023. Photograph: Martín Mejía/AP

We screened the trailer before a 3D sci-fi movie, Avatar. We didn’t want to show up as a sweet little girl Barbie movie. We wanted to show up as a bold event that is going to deliver some shock and awe. We wanted to be true to what Greta’s vision for the movie was.

We have to talk about Barbenheimer. How did Barbenheimer happen? Did Warner Bros do Barbenheimer marketing?

Sometimes these things come up organically. It really did just take off and take on a life of its own. The culture was doing it for us.

Barbenheimer started off as recognizing how different these two movies were, and then something kind of amazing happened. [Oppenheimer is Christopher Nolan’s biopic about J Robert Oppenheimer’s role in building the atomic bomb.] It was one of those rare moments where the internet, instead of dividing people, actually brought them together. It ultimately became a love letter to the movie business.

Do you think the Oppenheimer producers were behind Tom Cruise saying in early July that he was going to see both Barbie and Oppenheimer?

I don’t think anyone put Tom Cruise up to doing anything. Tom is a tremendous lover of movies, and is one of the great supporters of the theatrical experience. I think that was really organic.

You worked for many years with Michael Moses, the chief marketing officer at Universal, which produced Oppenheimer. Did the two of you ever have a call to discuss the Barbenheimer phenomenon? Was there a secret Barbenheimer marketing summit?

[Laughs] We actually didn’t. We did have a wonderful dinner to celebrate afterwards.

I’ve seen estimates in the film industry publications that the marketing budget for the Barbie film was $140m or $150m, in other words, slightly more than the film cost to make. What can you tell us about how much it costs to run this kind of campaign?

Opening a movie really is a little bit like running a presidential campaign, because you have to have everyone show up on opening weekend, and the opening weekend really drives so much of the business.

The reason that people have been speculating such high numbers is because the campaign became so ubiquitous and was everywhere, and people thought we paid for that. Everyone started wearing pink. All these outside brands came and wanted to partner with us. But that wasn’t because we spent so much more than a normal movie. It’s because the movie spoke to the culture.

Almost everyone I know who has seen the Barbie film has been surprised at how much it got away with. This is a corporate-approved film about a corporate brand, and it includes a plot line about Mattel executives. I think everyone wants to know: who convinced Mattel and Warner Bros to take these risks with a film?

I think really that’s the genius of Greta as a director. She had such a clear vision. I think it was a courageous leap on the part of Mattel to be willing to, frankly, at times make fun of themselves. They talked about “being comfortable being uncomfortable”, and it was something we all agreed on. It’s ultimately why the film connected with audiences, because it didn’t play it safe.

Richard Dickson and Lisa McKnight, the Mattel executives who oversee Barbie – they’ve done terrific work evolving Barbie over the last 10 to 15 years, as a character, to be more relevant to the culture. And I think the work that they have done made them recognize the evolving nature of who Barbie is.

To their credit, they and their CEO were willing to trust an artist. And I think that’s a rare moment, you know? It’s not a common occurrence in Hollywood.

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What was your original goal for what you thought the film’s marketing campaign could achieve?

We said, “Yeah, we want to be ambitious. We want to be out there with the most successful female movies.” Wonder Woman, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid. Those were the movies that sort of set the bar previously, at around $100m. Wonder Woman was more of an action movie, and this was a non-action movie. It really proved that movies driven by a female audience can really, really deliver.

Part of your marketing campaign included participating in gay pride month events in multiple cities, including Los Angeles and New York, in June. What did that look like?

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.

Paradegoers promoting the upcoming Barbie movie walk in the NYC Pride march on 25 June 2023.
Paradegoers promoting the upcoming Barbie movie walk in the NYC Pride march on 25 June 2023. Photograph: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

I also need to ask: Is there any discussion of a Barbie partnership with Calvin Klein, so that people can buy that iconic underwear with KEN on the waistband?

I think there’s probably more apparel coming in the future, inspired by the film. I don’t have any secrets to reveal at the moment.

Did you have a favorite part of the campaign?

I loved that Google wanted to partner with us. They saw from their own metrics, through YouTube and their search engine, how much Barbie was piercing the zeitgeist, and they wanted to be a part of it. It was really delightful.

Was the tremendous box office success of Barbie – and of the Barbenheimer weekend for the film industry more broadly – a kind of lighting in the bottle situation, one particular moment that is probably impossible to recapture? Or are there lessons that other marketers or Hollywood could take from this?

Both. Greta is a unicorn. She’s a very unique and special storyteller, and so much of this came from her vision. That aspect is hard to duplicate. The lesson for the business? One of the great things about theatrical movies, that separates them from streaming, is that they really engage the culture – it’s a shared, collective experience, taking place on an opening weekend when everyone goes to the movies together. The power of shared social events – that is something we have to remind ourselves about.

You’ve said that response to the Barbie film grew beyond just a marketing campaign into what you see as a movement: “Everyone has become their own evangelist for what is really a Barbie movement, a pink movement, of empowerment of women and girls.” What do you think are the demands this new Barbie movement might make of Hollywood?

I think the audience that responded to Barbie wants the same kind of bold, original storytelling. We’re seeing evidence of people, even in the short amount of time it’s been out, seeing it multiple times. I think its commercial success speaks to something deeper. It’s clearly satisfying a need that the audiences feel in terms of being seen. I think, ironically, this story about a doll is making a tremendous number of people feel understood.

Do you think the massive financial success of the Barbie film will mean that more films by female directors get greenlit, or studios will approve larger budgets for female-focused films?

I sure hope so. I think it’s good business. Greta is inspiring on so many levels. She’s inspiring as a storyteller, and I think she’s inspiring the business to take risks and get out of our comfort zone. Barbie shattered the glass ceiling on female IP. I think that’s only good for the business and for the culture.




From the first viral photos of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling roller-blading along Venice Beach as Barbie and Ken, it was clear that Greta Gerwig’s new Barbie movie was going to be a sensation.

But Barbie has outperformed all expectations, breaking box office records for the most commercially successful film by a female director, bringing in more than $356m (£276m, A$527m) worldwide during its opening weekend, and another $50m in tickets on Monday and Tuesday alone. Barbie’s long plastic legs are bestriding the world like a colossus, while more macho summer action films like Mission Impossible are left searching for audiences in her shadow.

The film has launched alongside more than a hundred bright pink branding deals, from Barbie sparkles on Google search results to Barbie-endorsed home insurance to a sold-out line of Barbie Crocs, and inspired crowds of moviegoers to show up in matching costumes.

How did Barbie do it? Josh Goldstine, the president of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros, spoke to the Guardian about the film’s unconventional marketing strategy, the rise of Barbenheimer, and what the power of the pink purse may teach other film studios. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

You sent the message that Barbie may not be what viewers would expect from the start. One of the early teaser trailers was a homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, showing girls in a prehistoric desert playing with baby dolls, and then smashing those dolls on rocks after a giant Barbie appears. You’ve said publicly that it was one of the most debated pieces of marketing you’ve ever worked on. Tell us more.

It broke the mold in terms of the images that first come to mind when thinking about a Barbie movie. That scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey is the dawn of man, and the idea of using Barbie as a replacement for the iconic monolith – it was sophisticated, in that it was a reference to a Kubrick movie from the 60s. It was saying, “We’re going to boldly go where you don’t expect a Barbie movie to go.” There were people in the department, colleagues, that said: “Woah, movie marketing doesn’t usually challenge you in that way.”

A protester takes part in a demonstration demanding that Peruvian President Dina Boluarte call for immediate presidential elections in Lima, Peru, on 22 July 2023.
A protester takes part in a demonstration demanding that Peruvian President Dina Boluarte call for immediate presidential elections in Lima, Peru, on 22 July 2023. Photograph: Martín Mejía/AP

We screened the trailer before a 3D sci-fi movie, Avatar. We didn’t want to show up as a sweet little girl Barbie movie. We wanted to show up as a bold event that is going to deliver some shock and awe. We wanted to be true to what Greta’s vision for the movie was.

We have to talk about Barbenheimer. How did Barbenheimer happen? Did Warner Bros do Barbenheimer marketing?

Sometimes these things come up organically. It really did just take off and take on a life of its own. The culture was doing it for us.

Barbenheimer started off as recognizing how different these two movies were, and then something kind of amazing happened. [Oppenheimer is Christopher Nolan’s biopic about J Robert Oppenheimer’s role in building the atomic bomb.] It was one of those rare moments where the internet, instead of dividing people, actually brought them together. It ultimately became a love letter to the movie business.

Do you think the Oppenheimer producers were behind Tom Cruise saying in early July that he was going to see both Barbie and Oppenheimer?

I don’t think anyone put Tom Cruise up to doing anything. Tom is a tremendous lover of movies, and is one of the great supporters of the theatrical experience. I think that was really organic.

You worked for many years with Michael Moses, the chief marketing officer at Universal, which produced Oppenheimer. Did the two of you ever have a call to discuss the Barbenheimer phenomenon? Was there a secret Barbenheimer marketing summit?

[Laughs] We actually didn’t. We did have a wonderful dinner to celebrate afterwards.

I’ve seen estimates in the film industry publications that the marketing budget for the Barbie film was $140m or $150m, in other words, slightly more than the film cost to make. What can you tell us about how much it costs to run this kind of campaign?

Opening a movie really is a little bit like running a presidential campaign, because you have to have everyone show up on opening weekend, and the opening weekend really drives so much of the business.

The reason that people have been speculating such high numbers is because the campaign became so ubiquitous and was everywhere, and people thought we paid for that. Everyone started wearing pink. All these outside brands came and wanted to partner with us. But that wasn’t because we spent so much more than a normal movie. It’s because the movie spoke to the culture.

Almost everyone I know who has seen the Barbie film has been surprised at how much it got away with. This is a corporate-approved film about a corporate brand, and it includes a plot line about Mattel executives. I think everyone wants to know: who convinced Mattel and Warner Bros to take these risks with a film?

I think really that’s the genius of Greta as a director. She had such a clear vision. I think it was a courageous leap on the part of Mattel to be willing to, frankly, at times make fun of themselves. They talked about “being comfortable being uncomfortable”, and it was something we all agreed on. It’s ultimately why the film connected with audiences, because it didn’t play it safe.

Richard Dickson and Lisa McKnight, the Mattel executives who oversee Barbie – they’ve done terrific work evolving Barbie over the last 10 to 15 years, as a character, to be more relevant to the culture. And I think the work that they have done made them recognize the evolving nature of who Barbie is.

To their credit, they and their CEO were willing to trust an artist. And I think that’s a rare moment, you know? It’s not a common occurrence in Hollywood.

skip past newsletter promotion

What was your original goal for what you thought the film’s marketing campaign could achieve?

We said, “Yeah, we want to be ambitious. We want to be out there with the most successful female movies.” Wonder Woman, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid. Those were the movies that sort of set the bar previously, at around $100m. Wonder Woman was more of an action movie, and this was a non-action movie. It really proved that movies driven by a female audience can really, really deliver.

Part of your marketing campaign included participating in gay pride month events in multiple cities, including Los Angeles and New York, in June. What did that look like?

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.

Paradegoers promoting the upcoming Barbie movie walk in the NYC Pride march on 25 June 2023.
Paradegoers promoting the upcoming Barbie movie walk in the NYC Pride march on 25 June 2023. Photograph: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

I also need to ask: Is there any discussion of a Barbie partnership with Calvin Klein, so that people can buy that iconic underwear with KEN on the waistband?

I think there’s probably more apparel coming in the future, inspired by the film. I don’t have any secrets to reveal at the moment.

Did you have a favorite part of the campaign?

I loved that Google wanted to partner with us. They saw from their own metrics, through YouTube and their search engine, how much Barbie was piercing the zeitgeist, and they wanted to be a part of it. It was really delightful.

Was the tremendous box office success of Barbie – and of the Barbenheimer weekend for the film industry more broadly – a kind of lighting in the bottle situation, one particular moment that is probably impossible to recapture? Or are there lessons that other marketers or Hollywood could take from this?

Both. Greta is a unicorn. She’s a very unique and special storyteller, and so much of this came from her vision. That aspect is hard to duplicate. The lesson for the business? One of the great things about theatrical movies, that separates them from streaming, is that they really engage the culture – it’s a shared, collective experience, taking place on an opening weekend when everyone goes to the movies together. The power of shared social events – that is something we have to remind ourselves about.

You’ve said that response to the Barbie film grew beyond just a marketing campaign into what you see as a movement: “Everyone has become their own evangelist for what is really a Barbie movement, a pink movement, of empowerment of women and girls.” What do you think are the demands this new Barbie movement might make of Hollywood?

I think the audience that responded to Barbie wants the same kind of bold, original storytelling. We’re seeing evidence of people, even in the short amount of time it’s been out, seeing it multiple times. I think its commercial success speaks to something deeper. It’s clearly satisfying a need that the audiences feel in terms of being seen. I think, ironically, this story about a doll is making a tremendous number of people feel understood.

Do you think the massive financial success of the Barbie film will mean that more films by female directors get greenlit, or studios will approve larger budgets for female-focused films?

I sure hope so. I think it’s good business. Greta is inspiring on so many levels. She’s inspiring as a storyteller, and I think she’s inspiring the business to take risks and get out of our comfort zone. Barbie shattered the glass ceiling on female IP. I think that’s only good for the business and for the culture.

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