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This Barbie works in Marketing

For those of you not in the know, my sister is trying to become a professional model. She loves creating content that fits the brand image of Isabella Diana. But, if you are truly in the know, you must be thinking, why is Faith dedicating the beginning of her blog post to her sister? Well, don’t fret. It will be about me and this crazy world we live in soon enough.

Isabella has been working her contacts, clothes, and catwalks professionally for almost two years, but this is not her start. Her first walkway was not a public event. It was, in fact, located in our Abuelita’s apartment.

As she strutted down our green-carpeted hallway, she gazed upon her reflection in the full mirror, practicing key looks for her future career. While it was a closed event, everyone who knew anyone was there. Her audience? The press, select fans, my enthusiastic grandmother, and a forced-to-be-there Faith.

But who inhabited the press, the fans? That would be a range of Barbies and Kens. Like any “tomboy,” I collected and played with cars, action figures, and tech decks, but when she was strutting, I’d be forced to facilitate the movements of Isabella’s fans and press. The joy of these memories clearly oozed out of me.

Barbie Burger (Burger King)
Burger King brazil

With such cheerful, happy memories, I completely forgot about them. I was blissfully ignorant until Barbie’s $150 million marketing budget was released to the masses; memories were unleashed, along with the first female-directed film to earn over $1 billion (Greta Gerwig, 2023, USA).

As you may have noticed, Barbie’s promotion and marketing infiltrated every industry. The film collaborated with Burger King to create a Barbie burger, manufactured a lifesize Barbie Malibu DreamHouse with Airbnb that people can rent, and developed a Barbie/Progressive ad.

This list of marketing endeavors strays away from their target consumers to create Barbiecore. But for now, let’s focus on the target demographic: me. Or, more accurately, my sister, who has fond childhood memories of Barbie and might want to relieve the glory days of no responsibility. But the billion in earnings don’t just come from the Gen Z fandom. Generations of women spanning 64 years formed this unstoppable force, well that and Barbiecore.

With these flashy pink posters, burgers (that I would never deign eating), Margot Robbie in Barbie’s most iconic outfits, and a DIY Barbie poster website, Mattel (or whoever is in charge of Barbie marketing) draws fans into the majestic and mystery of BarbieLand. They did this by itching consumers’ and customers’ needs to connect with their past and their need to connect with each other. Barbie did this by connecting people through a lens of unity, as everyone can be a Barbie. Yes, every random John and Jane Doe, or, in Barbie lingo, every Ken is “Kenough” to be a Barbie.

Faith in Barbie and Ken poster

Once the film was released, audience members supported Barbie’s marketing budgets through submovements like #Barbenheimer and Barbie Breakups. Women broke up with their boyfriends as the film empowered them to acknowledge their own self-worth, ultimately breaking up with less-than-ideal suitors. Some even broke up over the film’s content as these boyfriends didn’t understand the importance of new-wave feminism, anti-sexism, and anti-patriarchy themes.

This brings me to what the film is actually about (cue the spoilers). Barbie lives in the matriarchal world of BarbieLand. Every Barbie is somebody: a president, a physicist, a writer, and then there are the Kens––who are just Ken. When the inciting incident occurs, Stereotypical Barbie (Margot Robbie) is forced to venture out to the heartbreaking lands of our society as her user’s existential crisis about death, anxiety, and depression seep into BarbieLand. Ken joins along to get Barbie’s attention, but he quickly discovers that men have the power in our patriarchal hellscape. He RUNS to BarbieLand and turns it into: the Kendom (like kingdom). Barbie and her users return to BarbieLand/Kendom and help release the other Barbies from their patriarchal spells. After, the Barbies watch the Kens beat each other up, they restore the Barbie in BarbieLand.

While I love and respect all these pro-womanhood ideologies, the movie contains themes that juxtapose the original message––truly inhabiting the complexity of the Barbie Doll. What complexities? Well, the Barbie Doll is an utter paradox. She is a thin and big-breasted woman inhabiting the pressures from the male gaze, so it fits the view of the ideal woman’s body. But, she is also every woman, race, and career. She is a doctor, writer, and physicist but has never worked a day in her life (not that she’s alive). The Barbie Doll was created over 60 years ago, but she is also eternally in her 20s (but in the movie, she’s roughly 36). She is the definition of sexy but sexless. She is a child’s toy, but the film markets to a young adult and adult audience.

The paradox continues within the film, encompassing anti-capitalist and anti-patriarchy, but Barbie launches the Mattel cinematic universe. The movie’s marketing also relied on collaborating with and/or inspiring large corporations. They gained fame by heavily marketing Barbie to the point that Barbiecore was a marketing strategy for everything from sunglasses to donuts. Barbie-core consumerism feeds into capitalism. Despite the film’s antagonist being the Mattel CEO (Will Ferrell), it just helps strengthen the brand name recognition. As Mattel and Barbie grow and expand, they feed off of their capitalistic gains. This power promotes patriarchal sentiments. While the film focuses on girl power, its proceeds promote men as capitalism feeds into the patriarchy. So, as Gerwig critiques Mattel’s patriarchy and whiteness, Mattel Films produced the movie. Gerwig tries to beat them while she joins them, creating another Barbie paradox.

But these paradoxes and cinematic themes are the reasons why I loved the movie. I love writing and debating the film’s points of contention. But, there is also nothing better than sitting in the theatre watching the mother-daughter relationship remind me of my own. And when I looked over at my mother and grandmother during these scenes, we laughed together, remembering the horrors of 13-year-old Faith.

Capitalism, patriarchy, and feminism are human-made issues. And, unfortunately, humans are paradoxical, hypocritical, and ever-complex, so, of course, the social constructs we have created would follow suit; the movie just mirrors that. I would love to just say that the Barbie marketing team inserted a shiny pink facade into our lives, like BarbieLand, where we could ignore the truths of the movie and our world. But that would simplify the movie and the marketing plan surrounding it. At the end of the day, the promotion and movie helped connect women and the Kens of our world. Hell, it got me to start this blog post with a story featuring my sister, showing that anything could happen in BarbieLand.

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I love this post for two reasons

  1. I think that Barbie dolls are one of the most unappreciated creative toys for kids. There's an idea that the only use for Barbie dolls was playing house or pretending they're at work or something, but everyone I know who played with them as a kid has some strange, unique game they used to play with their dolls. Much like you and your sister would line them up as fashion show guests, my sister and I used to bury them in the yard and pretend that other Barbies were going on a haunted tropical retreat where they dig up the other Barbies' bodies.

  2. While I absolutely loved the Barbie movie and think it…

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