Browse any type of media from the last few days- TV, Twitter, Instagram etc- and you’ll see endless posts about the new Barbie movie. It seems the entire media landscape has been flooded with pink!
And why not? By summer blockbuster standards, it’s a well-made movie with a great cast, clever jokes, a fun vibe and transmits a positive, pro-female message. People love it, especially young girls (and their parents).
Secondly, they did a great job on marketing by owning the color pink, and then some. Their tagline, “She can do anything, he’s just Ken” is clever, funny and very, very repeatable. The Barbie merch is terrific. And teaming up with AirBnB to create a pink Barbie Beach House in Malibu is an influencer’s dream.
But this is not, we believe, why this has turned out to be the biggest weekend film debut ever for a movie directed by a woman.
The big news came, when the story shifted from being excited about the movie, to being “excited about the excitement” itself. When the buzz became “metabuzz.” When we stopped talking about the movie and started talking about the lines forming around the block to see the movie (like what happened with Jaws, Star Wars, and E.T.).
Suddenly, we have a cultural phenomenon. Suddenly, it’s simply not enough to just go see the movie and enjoy it. No, you have to dress in pink and go see the movie and enjoy it. Even men are dressing in pink, so they can larp the“Ken” look and get in on the fun. It’s even spawned a new fashion trend, “Barbiecore.” Wearing pink means you’re in on the joke, you “get it,” you’re part of “The Dance,” you’re part of the tribe.
Bill Bernabach once famously said that the best advertising medium is word of mouth.
He was wrong. The Barbie movie demonstrates that indeed the best advertising medium goes from word-of-mouth to allowing people to “participate in the ritual,” as Joseph Campbell would say.
Barbie is a classic “social object,” something that demonstrably alters the interaction between people in some new, interesting and positive way.
For a movie to really take off, it’s not enough for it to be good, for people to like it a lot and tell their friends. There needs to be a huge dose of social contagion, which, judging from all the movie goers dressed in pink, this movie certainly achieved.
This is what Joseph Campbell means by “Participate in the ritual.” It’s not just a good movie getting a lot of good buzz. It’s something far more deep, primeval and profound than that. Not exactly religion, but something evolved from the same part of ourselves.