Barbenheimer – Embracing Virality & Seizing the Moment

Written by: Austin Griffith

“I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world.”

“Now I am become death. Destroyer of worlds.”

Two quotes that, until recently, had probably never had any business ending up next to each other. Much like, until this summer, you’d never have proposed watching a movie about Barbie dolls that come to life right after a 3-hour biopic on the creator of the atomic bomb.

The choice to release The Barbie Movie and Oppenheimer to theaters on the same day created one of the most public & viral marketing moments of the year. A duo of cultural lightning rods that drew all ages to the theaters and inspired many not just to watch the movies, but to become a part of them. Sold out opening day screenings of both films. Double features, perhaps the only time you’d find pink Hawaiian shirts and ‘old sport’ style pleated pants and suspenders in the same room.

But how did they do it?

In the weeks leading up to the release of these films, each spent about $10M on promotion. Oppenheimer’s team chose to target the older audience, opting to stay off of TikTok and instead focus on the Meta platform and YouTube; Barbie saw massive success on their Instagram campaign and TikTok; Even IMAX got in on the marketing buzz – creating a TikTok account (that now has over 1million followers) and sharing almost exclusively Oppenheimer content until recently.

But what really drove the marketing for the movie over the long term was the viral meme that was Barbenheimer.

Rather than a rivalry, the suggestion to see both movies, back-to-back, emerged online. This trend went viral and put the idea of seeing both of these movies in to the minds of many who instead would have only gone for one or the other. “If you’re not doing Barbenheimer, you’re missing out!” Even if you had no interest in one, the feeling online became that of “you can’t see one and not the other.” FOMO began to emerge.

This viral joke kept talk of the movies fresh and fun and constantly evolving online. Barbie’s social media team leaned in to the trend in various ways: reposting fan content and creating their own around the event, giving them some control over the direction of the joke as it was portrayed to the masses. Placing giant “Barbie Doll” boxes in theaters for moviegoers to pose in. Merchandise from the movie was quickly put up for sale. Even movie tie-in Barbie and Ken dolls were quickly put up for pre-order (that’s right – have you ever heard of PRE-ordering a Barbie?).

And… it worked!

Barbie went on to celebrate the 4th highest grossing opening weekend of all time. By the end of its run it’s likely to be crowned the 10th highest grossing movie of all time. Barbenheimer gave AMC Theater their best weekend ever. At time of writing, Oppenheimer sits 3rd on the highest grossing movies this year – behind only Barbie and The Super Mario Bros. Movie.

Post-release, Barbie’s team continued to spend money on their marketing efforts while Oppenheimer took its foot off the gas and let the success of the movie propel itself. The Barbenheimer trend continued, with word of mouth and fantastic reviews driving fans to urge those who had not yet returned to the theater that for these flicks – you just had to. Now, nearly 100 days later the films continue to bring in theater patrons, a testament to their staying power culturally and financially.

What likely began as a bit of counterprogramming by the studios quickly turned in to both one of the internet’s biggest moments of the summer AND a blockbuster return to form re-arrival at the cinema after years of box office drought thanks to the pandemic. And by leaning in to the trend on social media as a brand, and sharing excitement for the trend in interviews with the cast leading up to the release, both movies were able to turn a Moment in to a multiple-month event that we’ll surely see replicated by other media in the coming years.

Want to have your brand’s own Barbenheimer moment? No one can “make” something go viral – but you can trust the storytelling experts and social media wizards at Slice Communications to make the most of it when it does happen. Contact us today.


The story behind Barbenheimer, the summer’s most online movie showdown

Barbieheimer: Destroyer of worlds, savior of cinema

Setting New Standards in Movie Marketing: The ‘Barbenheimer’ Approach

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