An undoubtedly all-pink and dreamy marketing campaign, but does it bring risks over Barbie’s brand image and reputation?
Over the past couple of weeks, it has been near impossible to avoid seeing some sort of nod to the upcoming Barbie film, whether it’s a pink billboard or a renamed street sign, however, is there risk that Mattel could run into future brand protection issues with such a strategy? Here, Molly Hackett looks at the risks Barbie owners are taking by modernising their approach.
The highly anticipated “Barbie” movie is set to release this week and is shaping up to be one of the biggest box office hits of 2023. From Barbie-themed buses to the Pantone 219C pink billboards, the Mattel Production of “Barbie” has launched a formidable all-pink and dreamy marketing campaign for the movie, exploiting Mattel’s strong intellectual property portfolio, consumer product partnerships, exciting licensing deals and affiliated (catchy!) soundtracks to create a wave of brand phenomena for the upcoming release. Let’s be honest, it has been difficult to leave the house without seeing a nod to the brand or the movie lately – our favourite being London’s inventive “Barbie-can” tube station; nice touch.
While the owner of the Barbie brand, Mattel Inc, will look to capitalise on the success of its marketing and the hype around the movie, and it cannot be denied that such a strategy is genius, however, is there risk that the media franchise could run into future brand protection issues with such a strategy?
Mattel Inc has a rich nineties and noughties history of aggressive brand defence and enforcing its legacy intellectual property rights in Barbie (both trademark and copyright) pursuing the likes of Aqua’s pop hit “Barbie Girl”, Rap Snacks Inc for its Barbie-branded potato chips and the notorious Barbie v Bratz feud, to name a few.
It appears, like adapting Barbie’s image to reflect modern beauty standards, Mattel have since modernised and adapted its commercial approach to promoting and monetising the brand and its trademark Barbie, as well as appealing to a more adult audience. Mattel Inc CEO Keinz launched the company’s “IP Strategy” by licensing the company’s intellectual property to almost every studio in Hollywood with the aim of reversing a stagnant sales decline. Pending success of the Barbie movie, we understand that Mattel has 45 movies up its sleeve based on toys from Polly Pocket to Hot Wheels.
The brand’s association with the colour pink and high feminine fashion known as “Barbiecore”, both the colour and fashionista phrase being a trademark belonging to Mattel Inc, appear to have been instrumental on Barbie’s impact in wider popular culture amongst retailers. Everything is pink.
One successful element has been the fact that (regardless of having licensing rights) companies, from big to small, have got involved in the promotion of the movie and the all-pink craze. It was reported (as of 14 July) that TikTok videos using the hashtag #Barbie had been viewed more than 9 billion times in the first half of 2023.
While all this promotion is great exposure for Barbie (and Mattel Inc), it ought to be considered whether such immersive brand promotion will create a likelihood of consumer confusion as to who the relevant product actually belongs to, or the risk of market saturation and the brand image becoming too generic and descriptive to legally protect in future. With the media franchise set to roll out its box office IP strategy with countless of the world’s renowned and beloved toys, a consequence of this could be Mattel Inc losing control over their “plastic” but “fantastic” brand image and reputation.
Mattel Inc ought to tread the tightrope of continuing to grow a successful business and modernising its brand portfolio, whilst keeping their cards close to their chest and being selective with its brand partnership and licensing deals, to avoid such risks. Intellectual property is a valuable asset to any company (for corporate giants like Mattel Inc to up-and-coming SMEs); the re-birth of Barbie being a perfect example of this. However, the way in which any brand’s intellectual property is exploited must be carefully contemplated and weighed up against the commercial benefits of a deal and maintaining a good level of protection over the brand.
It will be interesting to see how Mattel Inc approaches such risks and whether their IP strategy going forwards will be as successful and transformative as the Barbie campaign has been.
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[This blog is intended to give general information only and is not intended to apply to specific circumstances. The contents of this blog should not be regarded as legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Readers are advised to seek specific legal advice.]