The “Barbie” effect: How a movie becomes an economic factor


It starts with the Google search engine: If you enter “Barbie”, glittering pink stars will fall out. The shoe manufacturer Deichmann sells bright pink ankle boots, and the name Barbie glitters in rhinestones on the sneakers. This is how it goes on: There is hardly a fashion chain that does not want to supply its customers with appropriate T-shirts, bathing suits or bed linen.

After all, no generation has grown up without Barbie for 60 years. For a long time it was part of the children’s room furnishings. The plastic doll and her companion Ken have had an unparalleled career – at least when it comes to fame.

Already raked in over a billion dollars

But in recent years, Barbie sales have been less rosy for toymaker Mattel. Even though the company made an effort to boost business again by making the dolls more diverse, success was no longer really there. A look at the first quarter of 2023 alone shows that sales collapsed by around 41 percent.

Now the turning point could come with the Hollywood blockbuster. The “Barbie” film has already grossed $459 million in the United States and $572 million abroad. This is offset by production and advertising costs of around 260 million dollars.

Over 100 brand collaborations

The company not only expects the film to sell more Barbie dolls – it is also the starting point of a broad-based commercialization strategy. Just how broad has been tracked by brand strategist Moshe Isaacian from California. He explains the strategy like this: “Mattel doesn’t want to be just another toy brand. They want to get involved in the culture.” And the best way, according to Moshe Isaacian, “is to take Barbie to the places where people live.”

Cooperation between Mattel and other companies was already in place before the film was released. First in the US; Mattel has now entered into over 100 brand partnerships worldwide, not just with a fast food chain. From nail polish to lunch boxes to dog clothes, products are adorned with the Barbie logo. Local companies also rely on the Barbie effect. In October, Mattel will then launch its own children’s clothing collection in Germany.

But the top of the campaign is in the cinema. The message of “Barbie”: Who still wants high heels when you can wear health slippers? The film shoe model is now almost sold out. The German shoe manufacturer Birkenstock is jubilant, as it is currently planning an IPO in the USA. Fueled by the film, cooperation partners are lining up, although the toy giant collects up to 15 percent on the licensed products, according to the “Wall Street Journal”.

Even the pros are surprised

Toy figures becoming movie stars is anything but new. But that Barbie of all things “went through the roof like that, I didn’t expect that,” sums up Florian Lipp. The toy connoisseur did not rely on Barbie. He could have guessed it: his employer Craze markets the play sets for “Bibi & Tina”. The successful stories about the horse friends have already made it onto the big screen five times.

The Karlsruhe toy distributor is the licensor of the long-running “Paw Patrol” right down to the bath ball. “The movie got kids in the bath, but only with Paw Patrol characters.” The Canadian toy manufacturer Spin Master, inventor of “Paw Patrol”, proceeded very strategically with its four-pawed heroes: First there was the animated film, then the toy was designed later.

Expensive licenses for toy dealer

“Barbie” worked, which is also noticeable at Wieland Sulzer and his toy shop in Marburg. He has more children standing in front of the Barbie shelf again. However, he has to pay up to 27 percent more in purchases just to be able to sell such licensed items. “Of course I have to pass that on to the customers,” he says. He is still taking a risk, because “a maximum of two to four licenses usually work”. Only if he has the corresponding sales of goods will he not be left with his additional expenses.

On the bottom shelf of his shop, for example, are the “Polly Pocket” figures, little noticed by young customers – that era seems over. They also come from Mattel. In view of the “Barbie” success, these miniature dolls will soon be staged on the screen. And maybe the slow seller will become a bestseller again.


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