The Warner Bros. movie is releasing in theaters on July 21.
With the Warner Bros. Barbie movie releasing in theaters on July 21, many brands are cleverly using Barbie's iconic intellectual property as a marketing strategy, not only to promote the film but also to generate buzz for their range of products. The 'Barbiecore', the distinctive hot pink shade is everywhere, from Burger King's pink burger to the luxury brand COACH's new Barbie-inspired range.
But while the movie promotes itself and also helps other brands ride the pink wave, what does it do for Barbie's parent company Mattel? Will the movie promote the sales of its iconic plastic dolls in India?
Industry experts suggest that the movie may not be as effective in propelling the doll's popularity as its merchandise.
Rubeena Singh, country manager for India and MENA, AnyMind, believes that more than the sale of the dolls it is the merchandise that will pick up.
"It'll definitely give its merchandise business a huge boost. This is a great way to revive it. But it needs to be clear who the core audiences is and is the focus on the dolls or the other merchandise," she says.
Naresh Gupta, cofounder and managing partner, of Bang in the Middle, sees it as a smart move to redefine itself and find a new way to connect with the consumers.
He agrees that it may not push the ownership of the dolls as much as the things around them. "The experiences, games, merchandise and fashion line will start to work very well for them. I'm not sure if it will urge people to buy the dolls themselves because the young parents are not buying it as much," he says.
Nisha Sampath, brand consultant and founder, Bright Angles Consulting, says with kids having a lot of options today, the movie will lead to a short-term impact on the sales but not so much in the long-term.
"Undoubtedly it is a marketing tool for Mattel. It is definitely hoping to get a revival of interest back in the franchise. But today the collective memory is very short. So it needs to keep developing the theme and contemporise the whole world to today's time. One movie can only make so much impact. It will need to follow through otherwise I don't see it having a lasting impact," she mentions.
While it is the young kids, in the age group of three to nine, that play with the Barbie dolls, the upcoming film is not rated appropriate for children below 13 years. Thus, it may not directly appeal to the brand's TG, but it may help in the top-of-mind recall for young parents.
Hamsini Shivakumar, founder of Leapfrog Strategy, says the film is likely to evoke nostalgia among millennials and GenZ, who may in turn like to purchase it for their daughters or nieces.
"They have played with Barbie in their childhood. So now because of the nostalgia, they may watch the film and may purchase a doll. Through nostalgia marketing it can bring back the magic of Barbie for today's generation of kids," she says.
Gupta says Barbie was never a toy for young kids alone but also for parents. "They relived their childhood. This wasn't available when we were kids so now we buy it for our kids," he explains.
One movie can only make so much impact. It will need to follow through otherwise I don't see it having a lasting impact.Nisha Sampath, brand consultant and founder, Bright Angles Consulting
Mattel entered the Indian market in 1986-1987. These were the times of a closed trade regime and the licensing system. The foreign trade laws did not favour the presence of a multinational company, so Mattel entered into a joint venture with the company Blow Plast Inc. The dolls were finally launched in India in 1991-92.
Her golden blonde hair and fashionable looks gave Barbie an aspirational value. Beyond the dolls, little girls yearned to own different clothes, accessories, doll houses and occupation sets for their favourite dolls.
Over the years, Mattel made several attempts to adapt Barbie for Indian girls, including rolling out the 'Expressions of India' Collection in which Barbie’s dress and jewellery were altered to introduce the Roopvati Rajasthani, Mystical Manipuri and Sohni Punjab Di dolls. However, by the mid-2000s its popularity began to decline.
As the technology evolved, virtual play over devices like mobile phones and PlayStations took over kids' time, and interest in physical pretend play declined.
A father of two daughters, Gupta mentions that at one point of time, he had 20 Barbies at home. But today girls have moved on to other playthings.
"Earlier they used to play physically, with friends coming over, and setting up a dollhouse, etc. But that time has gone to phones and gaming devices and I don't see it getting over quickly. Meanwhile, I see a lot of Barbie merchandise finding its place back in their lives with the movie. There is something inherent in the Barbie universe that appeals to young girls," he says.
Sampath says that the virtual world has become infinitely more exciting. "The world of make-believe using dolls has been replaced by a world of digital make-believe. Moreover, kids are growing up much earlier from dolls and getting into the real adult world of fashion and beauty at a much younger age," she says.
"Earlier they used to play physically, with friends coming over, and setting up a dollhouse, etc. But that time has gone to phones and gaming devices and I don't see it getting over quickly."Naresh Gupta, cofounder and managing partner, Bang in the Middle
Through the years, there was a growing realisation that Barbie promoted unreal standards of beauty. She inspired young girls to look more like her, an expectation that too far from reality.
Singh, who has a 10-year-old daughter, says that its not a great toy for children. "There's too much emphasis on a certain body shape. Kids under the age of 10 play with dolls and the romance angle that Barbie brings in is more for teens than for kids," she explains.
Moreover, unlike the 90s kids, who did not have many options in toys, today's kids are spoilt for choice.
"Barbie is still a strong brand in India. Its one of the first dolls that girls play with. But when I was growing up, it was a craze. We wanted to have many dolls and buy every new outfit that came in. These days kids don't care that much about it because there's so many options available," she adds.
Barbie is still a strong brand in India. Its one of the first dolls that girls play with.Rubeena Singh, country manager for India and MENA, AnyMind
Philip Royappan, deputy general manager-sales and marketing, Funskool, says, "Today kids are playing with a lot of Do-it-yourself activity kits. In the arts and crafts category, Funskool has Handycrafts, which has seen healthy positive growth over the past few years. Board games especially strategy games continue to be a favourite amongst children. As far as dolls are concerned, there are a couple of brands which are the most preferred for girls."
Rahul Dhamdhere, CMO, KidZania India, says today's children love to play with their hands. "That's also what their parents want them to do. They are tired of their kids being glued to their devices. They are being urged to play games where they can enjoy touch and feel and allow their imaginations to go wild," he says.