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  • Shems Ghali

From Plastic Icon to Emotional Resonance: How Barbie Transcends its IP and Touches Audience's Soul

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

It’s hard to miss the buzz of Barbie. Step outside and it’s poster after poster, scroll on TikTok and it’s Billie Eilish’s voice we hear with quotes from the film, I only have to open group chats and it’s all anyone’s messaging about. It’s been long awaited, highly anticipated and it's made an impact.

Mattel has spent $150 million on marketing the film, according to fortune, so it’s no wonder we can’t escape it, and it’s a signifier of what’s to come. Mattel is on a mission to inject fresh, vibrant energy into its beloved lineup of brands. So brace yourself because it’s not just Barbie getting the silver screen treatment but even Hot Wheels, Thomas & Friends, and Uno are planning to take centre stage…

To stand out from the crowd and truly shine, brands must embark on a journey. Our Co-Founder Paul recently wrote an article, delving into the art of leveraging IP to deeply engage with our audiences, and resonate with their very souls. Enter Barbie – a true exemplar of this transformative power. Barbie not only embraces IP-led entertainment but elevates it to an extraordinary level of potency and impact, resonating with the hearts of the audience.

“Any IP can be turned into a film, but not any IP can be turned into a good film.” Sharon Price John, Former Director of Mattel’s Barbie division

It’s probably fair to say, when settling into those cosy cinema chairs, we expected a lot of pink, girlie fun... But Barbie has unearthed something far more profound. It’s taken people by surprise and got them thinking. Barbie has developed into a multidimensional character with growth and challenges. She’s a modern Barbie that reflects the world and current social values told through empowering messages. Most importantly she speaks to the souls of women.

This isn't about dismissing men or claiming they won't find a connection with this film. They definitely can. But for me, and countless other women, Barbie speaks to our hearts, unlocking emotions and understandings that connect with our very essence.

Firstly, it’s a film rooted in authentically understanding the audience’s soul & values

Barbie's strength lies in its ability to touch the human soul through a team that genuinely understands the intricacies of what it means to be a woman. As a film created by women, about women, and for women, it becomes a powerful expression of female voices and experiences, resonating deeply with values that define us. Powerful themes about the patriarchy, feminism and characters like Weird Barbie, Gloria or Barbie herself are brought to light with authenticity and understanding. This ignites empathy and connection with the audience, tapping into the essence of the human spirit.

Barbie embodies the passion and dedication of its creators from Gerwig to Robbie, who envisioned touching the audience's soul from the outset in 2016. They understand the audience, share the same experiences & beliefs and so connect with the essence of our humanity.

The characters & story arc shift the focus from ‘dollhood’ to ‘womanhood’ for real meaning

Whilst the Barbies & Kens take centre stage it’s the human characters that transcend this film, notably Gloria, played by America Ferrera, and her daughter Sasha, portrayed by Ariana Greenblatt. Their presence offers us a glimpse into the realities of growing up as a woman, through the eyes of both mother and daughter, moving beyond dollhood into a profound exploration of womanhood and the values we connect with.

It’s no wonder Gloria’s speech is all anyone can talk about, her character talks about the impossible standards women are meant to uphold and the pressure of society.

“I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots .... And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don’t even know.

Barbie's well-developed characters add depth to the narrative and resonates powerfully with the audience. Its honest portrayal taps into women's core values today, something truly challenging to achieve, elevating the brand beyond a child's toy to something meaningful for all ages. This exemplifies how IP can authentically & powerfully connect with its audience.

It explores Barbie’s cultural impact, acknowledge change in society

Barbie was created over 70 years ago and this film fearlessly embraces its good, its bad, and the in between. From Barbie's unrealistic body shape and fashion standards to her representation of female adulthood, Mattel opens itself up for criticism by acknowledging the negative impact Barbie has had on younger girls and speaks to the values & themes of today’s society.

Staying true to the IP, the film reminds us of Barbie's evolution, celebrating her increased diversity in representing females. Yet, it doesn't shy away from the negative influence on young girls' self-esteem. This powerful portrayal captures the essence of human values at this time, fostering a connection with the audience that speaks to the heart of our ever-changing world. This is what helps the IP to work so authentically, it confronts the complexities of our society and the ongoing journey towards empowerment and inclusivity, tapping into strong human values for ultimate connection.

The clear understanding of the audience's cultural context, establishes a deep connection with the soul, addressing their issues and aspirations, securing long-term relevance without losing the essence of the original IP.

Without a doubt, Barbie was destined for box office glory, with its nostalgic charm and star-studded A-list cast & crew. However, what truly sets this film apart from the crowd is its creative brilliance, honesty & masterful storytelling – putting even the mighty Marvel universe to shame (sorry!)

So… thinking about your IP, how can you harness some of Barbie’s power to create something authentic, meaningful and current (relevant)? Ultimately we need to future proof it, understand how it's working for our audience today & how it will work for them in years to come to create something soulful that will elevate our IP without losing the essence of what makes it so loved.

Shems Ghali, Research Manager

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