Like any good millennial, when I’m not eating avocado toast or killing the diamond/paper napkin/cereal industry, I spend a lot of my time on social media. And of all of the friends, family, brands, celebrities and influencers that I follow, there is one woman who (in my humble opinion) is running rings around everyone else: Barbie.
Barbie has been many things: a president, a ballet teacher, a McDonald’s cashier, a game developer – all while serving some serious looks. It seems only right that she should add ‘internet icon’ to her very long resume.
And the key to Barbie’s online success is simple – like, kick-yourself-for-not-thinking-of-it simple. She’s using the core elements of her branding that have been carefully curated over the course of almost 60 years, and translating them into social media content that is adapted for each channel she uses. She refocuses aspects of her public image to suit the times in order to become visible, relevant and above all covetable in each space she occupies.
How Barbie is killing the social media game
The Barbie Style Instagram account is one of the best practice examples of this technique. Separate to the official product promo-filled Barbie branded account, Barbie Style sees Barbie play the role of Instagram influencer: she attends launch parties for charities, she shares healthy cooking tips, she posts faux-candid photos of her and her dog, Miss Honey. Just as her real-life contemporaries (like Kate La Vie and Hello October) live an impossibly well-curated life, so does Barbie.
And people love it. Although both Barbie accounts are clearly posting Barbie-branded content, Barbie Style has close to 2 million followers compared to Barbie’s 1.2 million. Rather than emphasising the product (i.e. herself), Barbie is selling the lifestyle that she represents. Through her feed, Barbie allows you to live vicariously through her.
While an Instagrammer’s life is meant to be a filtered version of reality, YouTubers are seemingly more down-to-earth by comparison. To fit in alongside the likes of Zoella, Fleur De Force and I Covet Thee, Barbie adapts her persona to become a lifestyle vlogger, sharing her life with millions of subscribers.
Her series of vlogs cover YouTube content mainstays (the Best Friend Tag with Ken, makeup tutorials, the Yoga Challenge) but also includes unique talk-to-camera thought pieces that take on a more inspirational tone (Sorry Reflex, The Dream Gap, Be Your Own Muse) and has led to Barbie being crowned “the new woke queen” by the internet. Just like any other big YouTuber, she also hawks her own products and merch. When Mattel released a new Barbie dream house for example, Barbie vlogged about redesigning her home.
This approach may be different to her Instagram, but the message is still largely the same: I am someone to look up to, and if I can do all of this, so can you.
What is the aim behind Barbie's social media stratgegy?
You’d be forgiven for thinking I’d gone mad - a grown woman referring to Barbie as if she were a real person, dissecting her social media strategy. Let me be clear and say that I know that she is a doll and not a sentient being, and that there is in fact a whole team of social media wizards behind everything I have discussed.
But it is because of these people’s wizardry that I feel compelled to both address Barbie as if she were a real person and highlight her activity as notable. For years, Barbie has existed in a space between reality and fantasy. Her commercials emphasise that she is a toy to be played with and it is your imagination that makes her real. Her TV shows, movies and video games on the other hand give her a voice, a personality, a clear character; she is a real person all on her own without your input.
Giving her a concrete social media presence has pushed her further into this ‘real person’ space. In a world where people are turning away from traditional ads and towards influencer marketing, it pays to be visible online; to present a covetable visual aesthetic; to speak out and have an opinion on important issues. Barbie has amped up her real-ness, and heavily included social media in her marketing strategy to take advantage of this change in audience preference.
This social media approach is part of a wider strategic brand shift that includes an increase in the diversity of Barbie dolls available and messaging focused on the empowerment of young girls. Above all else, what this demonstrates is her deep knowledge of her audience and the sociocultural context in which they exist. When once it was perfectly acceptable for Barbie to flog herself as nothing more than a blonde with great clothes, she knows that her target users (young girls) and those with the buying power (their millennial mothers) now hold her to a higher standard. The world demands that she stands for more, and so she does. The world demands that she exists online to sell her brand, and so she does.
The key takeaways from Barbie's social media
- Curate your content based on the platform that you are using. Different platforms will lend themselves more easily to highlighting different parts of your brand; be mindful of what this is.
- Be aware of exactly who your audience are, the context in which they exist and the kind of content that the seek and respond to online
- Take stock of your core brand elements. Take time to consider how best each one can (or can’t) fit in today’s world without losing what you are known for