I remember seeing pictures of the Barbie movie set back in 2022. There was excitement around the movie, but I would never have guessed it would become a global phenomenon.
Stories from major publications (Vanity Fair, Hollywood Reporter, Wall Street Journal, Yale Insights, Adweek, etc.) took over Google's search results and filled our inboxes. And brands cemented their collaborations with the Barbie franchise—from Barbie & Vans to Barbie & Fossil and (my personal favorite) Barbie & Crocs.
Leveraging the hype from Barbie as a brand is an undeniably smart tactic. But that's not what I'm here to talk about.
Instead, I want to talk about the brilliant minds behind the marketing of the Barbie movie and the lessons that branded podcasts—and marketers of all kinds—can lessons from them.
What Branded Podcasts and Marketers Can Learn from the Barbie Movie
"I don't have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on marketing," or "Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling aren't the hosts of my show," you might be thinking. And I get that.
But what I want to do is take some of the core ideas that the marketing team behind Barbie used to spread mass conversations and participation in the movie—and explore how they can be applied to your brand's podcast or your marketing.
1. Collaborations are important
The sheer volume of Barbie collaborations played a large role in the virality of the movie. Before the movies premiere, 100+ brand partnerships had been launched.
Collaborations attract publicity and build buzz around your brand, reach new potential customers, boost sales and engagement, grow your community, and encourage user-generated content.
Collaborations are a highly effective growth strategy, whether they take the form of influencer marketing, guest swaps, cross promotions, or other partnership formats. Getting your branded podcast in front of, or in the ears of, new audiences who trust the original source is powerful.
Example: EQ Bank's "Take Back Talk Back" on collaborations
The Take Back Talk Back podcast benefitted from guest appearances, as shared by former host Sarah Zandbergen. She and other EQ Bank team members guested on various shows, recognizing the significant impact of such opportunities.
"Listeners trust podcast hosts and pay attention to their recommendations. Name-dropping our podcast on other shows led to a notable increase in episode performance," Zandbergen points out.
In one instance, the bank's CEO's guest appearance on a banking podcast resulted in a 500% increase in monthly downloads.
2. Don't silo within your native medium
Barbie didn't live just on the film screens. Barbie lived in your inbox, on billboards, at the mall, on your social media accounts, and even at your lunch spot (if you live in Brazil and got Burger King's Barbie-themed burger).
Barbie was everywhere.
The lesson for branded podcasts is that just creating a great show isn't enough; you need to know how to market it. At Quill, we often push our clients to avoid thinking of their podcast in silos, instead encouraging them think about how their podcast can turn into an asset to share via their newsletter, YouTube channel, blog, social media, paid ads, OOH campaigns, and more.
To grow, you need to put on your marketing thinking cap and create a strategy for how you will build an audience.
Example: How Distribution First distributes its episodes to drive growth
Justin Simon is a marketing expert and host of the Distribution First podcast. Simon's approach to repurposing involves transforming each episode into a promotional element for his weekly newsletter while maintaining engagement through LinkedIn posts, videos, and carousels.
Simon highlights the impact of this strategy with an example: His first episode garnered 100 downloads, but subsequent promotions via newsletter and social media totaled nearly 40,000 impressions. That 400-fold increase in engagement underscores the power of strategic content repurposing and distribution.
In 1956, Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel, launched the very first Barbie. Her spark of inspiration came after watching her daughter play with paper dolls that resembled adult women rather than the norm—baby dolls.
But with woman dolls, kids could view them as role models for what they might become. Role-playing could revolve around being an astronaut, doctor, Olympian, veterinarian, pilot, entrepreneur, or one of the other hundreds of careers Barbie has held over the years.
Within Barbie's first year, Mattel sold over 300,000 Barbie dolls, and in 2021 more than 86 million dolls were shipped from the Barbie universe, according to Smithsonian magazine.
Although not without the occasional backlash throughout the years, Barbie has become among the most influential toys to have ever existed.
3. Tease your audience and spark curiosity
The Barbie movie was presented to the public starting in 2022. But from then until its premiere, we were given only hints about what we were about to witness on July 21, 2023.
In a conversation with Vanity Fair, a representative spoke about the marketing behind the movie, saying "We saw it as a breadcrumb strategy, where we gave people little elements of the movie to stimulate curiosity and that created conversation."
By teasing audiences, your branded podcast taps into a fundamental human desire to uncover the unknown. That compels the audience to hit play while fostering loyalty and repeat engagement.
Example: Teasing the audience with impact.com's The Partnership Economy
impact.com's podcast, The Partnership Economy, excels in audience engagement using strategic social media promotion.
The core of its episode teasing strategy involves sharing key takeaways and insights to spark interest and indicate whom the episode benefits.
Understanding that audiences seek value and relevance, its marketers use these snippets to create anticipation and attract a specific audience, making that audience feel acknowledged and catered to.
4. Build connection, evoke emotion
The sea of pink that flooded theaters during the Barbie movie's premiere wasn't just a color; it became a symbol of unity and a shared experience.
People from different generations were head to toe in pink, acknowledging their connection to the movie (I can also say I saw someone with Barbie dolls tied into their hair).
In that same Vanity Fair interview, the Barbie representative said Barbie Pink has always been part of the brand but this time it was more than a color palette—it was the embodiment of a movement that resonated deeply with audiences.
The lesson here for branded podcasts is the power of connection and shared experiences to evoke strong emotions and build a community.
I know you don't have the entire history of Barbie backing you... but on a more realistic scale, branded podcasts can create unique viewpoints or themes that resonate with listeners, turning them into passionate advocates for the show.
Example: SickKids VS on building connection and emotion
The SickKids Foundation's podcast, SickKids VS, exemplifies the power of connection and emotion. The team spends time engaging with staff, patients, and families to delve into their experiences, focusing on what resonates.
By weaving in context, tension, and resolution, they craft stories that reflect real-life challenges and breakthroughs in the medical field, following a classic narrative arc. That approach not only helps them stand out but also amplifies voices that are often unheard.
5. Don't sell your company; sell your mission, beliefs, and values
The Barbie movie wasn't just about selling toys. Brand strategist Moshe Isaacian told Vox that the focus wasn't on marketing the products, but rather on the mission, beliefs, and values behind Barbie: "It's to bring what Barbie stands for to our real world."
This shift in focus is a vital lesson for branded podcasts. The power of podcasts isn't to merely use them as an avenue to promote products or services; instead, it's to emphasize your core values and the impact you wish to make.
By aligning content with your larger mission, branded podcasts can forge deeper connections with audiences, which will not only appreciate your products or services but also connect with your brand's philosophy.
Example: How CAAT Pension Plan aligns Contributors podcast with the organization's goals and mission
CAAT Pension Plan's podcast, Contributors, is aligned with the plan's mission of enhancing retirement income security for Canadians. The podcast highlights the contributions of Canadian leaders toward a better future, echoing CAAT's goal of providing sustainable pensions.
The alignment of the podcast with CAAT's core mission ensures that each episode goes beyond promotional content, focusing instead on life enrichment. That approach has fostered a strong connection with audiences and built a dedicated listener base.
It's a Wrap
The Barbie movie isn't just a film; it's a marketing masterclass that offers valuable insights for branded podcasts.
From collaboration and cross-promotion to emotional connection and values-driven content, the strategic marketing approach that made Barbie a global phenomenon can be applied to take your branded podcast to the next level.
As Barbie has shown, marketing—when done right—can be a tool not just for selling but also for inspiring and uniting people around a shared vision.
And just like Barbie, branded podcasts have the potential to be more than content; they can become part of a movement.
More Resources on Marketing Lessons From Pop Culture
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