Everyone Sees Themselves in the New Barbie—and That’s a Goldmine for Brands
If it feels like Barbie pink is everywhere right now, that’s because it is.
Inspired by Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie, which lands in Canadian theatres July 21, Barbiecore, the ultra-feminine and overwhelmingly pink aesthetic, has taken over as the biggest trend of 2023. Searches for pink are at an all-time high, skyrocketing to peak popularity in July of this year, according to Google Trends, and the online obsession has seeped into the real world: Aside from official Barbie movie collaborations (there are Barbie crocs, a sparkly Barbie-inspired OPI nail polish line, a Barbie-fied version of Uno, to name a few), stores have been inundated with pink products—everything from clothes to shoes to make up to… food.
A big driving factor behind the onslaught of Barbiecore? Barbie’s new brand. Since the first Barbie was released in 1959, the doll has long been associated with her flowing blonde hair and unattainably thin body. It wasn’t until 2016 when Mattel launched Barbie Fashionistas—dolls that came in four body types and seven skin tones—did things notably change. Gerwig’s new film follows Fashionistas’ lead with a cast that reflects the 21st century Barbie. It features diverse leads including Issa Rae, Simu Liu and America Ferrera, as well as Hari Nef, the first openly transgender woman signed to IMG Models. No longer is Barbie just about thin, white women; everybody can see themselves in today’s inclusive Barbieland. And this mass appeal has brands jumping on the Barbiecore bandwagon to reach wider audiences and appeal to a younger demo that centres their values in their purchasing decisions.
The power of Barbie’s new brand
Mattel, Barbie’s parent company which also produces popular toys like Hot Wheels and American Girl Dolls, knows that diversity is key to sales: Between 2011 and 2015, Barbie’s sales dropped by a third. Mattel conducted a consumer study that found that Barbie was seen as vapid, shallow and super-white, and that her unrealistic body was turning off young girls whose sales the company desperately needed to court. So, they revamped the old doll and created Barbies with different body types, a Barbie in a wheelchair and racially diverse Barbies under the Fashionistas line. Mattel saw a 16 per cent jump in sales in 2016 after launching the new range of dolls.
Even with the first wave of promotion for the film—remember that week when everyone was using the “This Barbie Is…” filter?—Barbie is making it clear that anyone can put themselves in Barbie’s place. Barbie’s new socially conscious brand (and the movie’s take on the doll’s troubled history with feminism and diversity) makes it attractive for companies to partner with the bombshell blonde.
“Brands will attach themselves to another brand when they expect there to be a burst of attention and lots of discussion about it,” says Joanne McNeish, an associate professor of marketing at Toronto Metropolitan University. In this case, brands are hoping to attach themselves to Barbie’s new image for a sales (and reputation) boost. And of course, “they’re hoping that the movie does really well, which means that the associated sales lift will last longer.”
Take a scroll through your fave online shopping sites and you’ll see an endless amount of Barbie-inspired products. There is a Malibu DreamHouse listed on AirBnb (in partnership with Mattel), Barbie-inspired pool inflatables from Funboy, a whole line of Barbiecore garments at Zara (other fast fashion brands like the Gap and Forever 21 have Barbie collections this summer too), a hot pink Barbie luggage collection at Shay Mitchell’s brand Beis, a bright Barbie line of eyeshadows and lip glosses at NYX Cosmetics and there’s even a Barbie oral care collection.
Brands know that diversity is good for business, especially if they’re hoping to court young consumers. Sixty two per cent of Gen Z and 61 per cent of Millennials say that racial and ethnic diversity is good for society—and that viewpoint trickles down into their purchasing decisions. According to Mintel, a market intelligence agency, Gen Z consumers are committed to diversity and inclusion (even if it doesn’t directly affect them) and two-thirds agree that traditional gender roles are outdated. This generation is actively seeking out brands that are representative in their marketing. According to a survey by Deloitte of over 1,000 global executives, the highest-growing brands are committed to equitable outcomes in their workforce, marketplace and society in ways that their lower-growth peers are not. It’s a no-brainer for brands to present a diverse image—and a Barbiecore collection is an easy way to do so.
The future of Barbiecore
Just because Barbie is having a moment, it doesn’t mean it’s risk-free for brands to jump on the pink train. “If it’s inconsistent with who you are, consumers will see that you’re just doing it to be a part of this fad,” says McNeish. Partaking in a fad might result in a short-term sales boost, but it could ultimately be a waste of both funds and time—especially if it ends up alienating your core customer base. “Consumers are savvy enough to recognize when you’re being inauthentic,” says McNeish. Corporate Pride campaigns, for example, have been called out for “rainbow washing” as slapping a rainbow flag on products during June is a temporary showcase of allyship if it’s not backed by action. For instance, Canadian airlines like WestJet have faced criticisms for celebrating Pride publicly but only offering male and female gender options for bookings.
Plus, whether Barbiecore has a long runway, or is destined to pile up in landfills, is yet to be seen. Especially with critics pointing out that Barbie is a symbol of rampant overconsumption and the worst of capitalism’s excesses, brands might want to think carefully about the message they are sending with a Barbie-inspired line before jumping on the trend.
That being said, while the overindulgent, hyper-feminine, maximalist Barbiecore aesthetic may come and go, one thing’s for sure: Centring diversity in branding will not. As consumer bases become more vocal about supporting diversity, brands that want to grow their sales will need to communicate that their companies are on the same page, too. In fact, 59 per cent of Canadian consumers prefer to be associated with brands that align with their values—diversity being one of them. And with Barbie’s new focus on inclusivity lending Mattel a bump in sales and image, other brands looking to attract young customers are happy to take a page out of the toy company’s playbook.