No one walking into the theater actually knew what the Barbie movie was going to be about, but everyone went anyway—dressed in pink.
The phrase “Barbie is everything” is true. Barbie pink and the iconic logo have been practically everywhere and on everything since Warner Bros. dropped a first look in April 2022 of Margot Robbie as Barbie sitting in her pink convertible. It’s estimated that over $150 million was spent on the film’s marketing campaign, more than its production budget of $145 million, Vanity Fair reported.
Barbie marketing included everything from an Airbnb Barbie DreamHouse rental and a Barbie boat cruise on the Boston Harbor, to pink burgers at Burger Kings in Brazil and Progressive insurance commercials.
“I won’t comment on the budget,” Josh Goldstein, Warner Bros. president of global marketing, told Vanity Fair. “The reason people think we spent so much is that it’s so ubiquitous. That’s a combination of paid media and how many partners came to play with us. Because it pierced the zeitgeist, it has the impression that we spend so much. In fact, we spent responsibly for an event movie.”
Neither Warner Bros. nor Mattel, owner of the Barbie brand, immediately responded to Fortune’s request for comment.
You know you’re in the zeitgeist if you’re a trending meme
Director Greta Gerwig’s Barbie brought in over $160 million in ticket sales during its opening weekend, making it the biggest debut ever for a film directed by a woman.
But you can’t talk about Barbie without talking about Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, a film about the creator of the atomic bomb that was released on the same day. Social media had a major part to play in their mutual success.
The meme-ification of Barbie-Oppenheimer (a.k.a. “Barbenheimer”) helped result in $311 million in combined ticket sales. This made the past weekend the fourth highest-grossing domestic box office weekend in history, behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, according to the New York Times.
The Internet seemed to take to the ironic and self-aware tone of Barbie. One of the film’s taglines read, “If you love Barbie, this movie is for you. If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you.”
“We wanted to recognize there were legions of Barbie fans, but that Barbie had quite a history and there are people who felt like Barbie wasn’t for them,” Warner Bros.’ Goldstein told Vanity Fair. “This was a movie that understood that and was acknowledging it. “
And more memes surrounded the efforts of Barbie’s marketing team, crediting pink sunsets, pink-colored lakes, sightings of rare pink dolphins, and more as relentless promotion for the movie.
The Barbie marketing team have done it again. So creative 👏🏻 pic.twitter.com/h4JCbRzFaj— Mark Rofe (@iamrofe) July 17, 2023
the Barbie marketing team has done it again 👏 https://t.co/IvRdEZmzuj— mary mandefield (@marymandefield) July 19, 2023
But some have criticized Mattel for going too far when the company gave free Barbie dolls to children in schools in its “Barbie School of Friendship” program during the lead-up to the film’s premiere. Experts told the British Medical Journal that they were “faintly repulsed” by it and asked, “Why should children be exposed to this type of stealth marketing?”