Marketing Magic: Barbenheimer’s Playbook

August 17, 2023by Hiebing

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that two highly anticipated summer movies, Barbie and Oppenheimer, were released on the same day: July 21, 2023. While the release date may have been coincidental, the strategies behind their marketing campaign was no accident.

These films could not be more polar opposite of one another, yet they will now be cemented in the cultural mind as a blockbuster phenomenon – something the internet has dubbed “Barbenheimer.” This dichotomous duo met in the middle and churned out digital marketing campaigns that embraced audiences who might not have otherwise crossed paths. Some fans will get glammed up to see Margot Robbie grinning in her hot pink Corvette; others will be counting down to watch Cillian Murphy gaze despairingly at an atomic explosion. Regardless of what camp you may be in, here are three key things we learned from the Barbenheimer marketing phenomenon that led to over $246 million in revenue opening weekend.

1.) Surround Your Target

One thing both Barbie and Oppenheimer did right was build anticipation by surrounding audiences with bits and pieces of their story. The ingenious approach of embracing audiences from across the aisle, regardless of the vast differences in tone and style of the films, led to the interest in the double features.

It was hard not to encounter the Barbie movie promotions. From huge collaborations with big brands like Crocs, The Gap, even Burger King, to giant publicity stunts like an actual Airbnb of the Barbie Dreamhouse – everyone wanted to be a part of the Barbie World. These collaborations found their way into paid, owned and earned media strategies that surrounded their audience at every turn. Pair that with the teaser trailer that had fans of Barbie and director Greta Gerwig on the edge of their seats – and you get a fully engaged, excited audience with reminders to get glitzed and glammed for the big event.

While the Oppenheimer team chose a more enigmatic marketing approach, they let power of the concept, the idea and the seriousness of the plot surround their targets in subtle ways. Christopher Nolan devotees and cinephiles were teased on social media with a trailer of star Cillian Murphy mysteriously staring into an atomic explosion in the 70mm beauty the film was shot in. The stars of the film were deployed for interviews on podcasts and in video blogs to generate excitement about the A-list cast.

Both strategies resonated with their individual target audiences and laid the foundation for the epic crossover that cemented Barbie and the father of the atomic bomb into one cultural zeitgeist.

2.) Make Audiences Feel Like They’re Part of the Experience

With each audience stirred up and ready to see their chosen movie on the silver screen, an internet phenomenon occurred. Memes began appearing everywhere – Oppenheimer’s dark, moody aesthetic in juxtaposition to Barbie’s bright, bubbly and very pink glamour. Jokes were made about the era, the movie double feature plan, famous quotes from each cultural icon were swapped, but no matter the joke – audiences felt like they were a part of the fun. The fun sparked interest for Barbie girls to learn more about the man who became “destroyer of worlds,” and historical buffs took deep dives into the feminist movement sparked by the creation of Barbie – all leading to a wonderfully strange cross-section of viewership in a style of movie these audiences may never have considered before. Embracing the newly piqued interest, both movies went a step further to make audiences old and new feel like a part of the experience.

One of the strategies that will live in marketing history is the AI Barbie Selfie Generator promotional landing page. Millions of individuals submitted to the Barbie-mania and used the generator to create photos of themselves as a “Barbie.” This fun and playful approach was shared by fans across platforms and generated free publicity for the movie.

Similar to the Selfie Generator, Oppenheimer also created a promotional page for audiences searching for more about film. The website features a Manhattan Project countdown, a direct tie to the film’s historical narrative. Alongside the countdown, there was an interactive aspect showcasing Los Alamos, the site of the infamous Trinity Test of the atomic bombs.

3.) Leverage Star Power  

In the final weeks leading up to the release date, both media strategies culminated and brought out a true, not-so-secret weapon – the star power behind each movie.

Singer-songwriter Dua Lipa stirred her 88.1 million followers into a frenzy with her AI-Generated Barbie Selfie. And she wasn’t the only one – Ryan Gosling, Kate McKinnon and more shared group photos and their own personalized generated memes. That’s a massive audience reach! With stars shining their virtual Barbie glam, it renewed the frenzy around the “This Barbie is a…” trend and had the internet raving about more than just the movie.

On the other hand, Oppenheimer leveraged the power of its stars by encouraging cast and crew members to post the film’s trailers on social media – and engage with fans who commented on the trailer. Even the most cynical of fans had to light up at seeing personalized comments from Josh Peck, Robert Downey Jr., and Jack Quaid to name a few. This kind of personal interaction made an audience feel a real connection to the story and, in proper Oppenheimer fashion, had them counting down the days to the release.

Ultimately, there’s no denying that both of these movies created marketing campaigns that have raised the bar for exciting movie aficionados and activating personalized content to stir up an audience and garner awareness through paid, earned and owned content across multiple tactics. So, whether you’re a Barbie Girl just living in a Barbie world or a moody history buff, Barbenheimer had a little bit of everything – just for you.

Wondering how your team can drum up Barbenheimer-level excitement for your next campaign? Hiebing can help. Email Nate Tredinnick at to set up a call.

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