By: Patrick Sauriol Jul 21/2023

Unless you have been living underneath a rock for most of 2023 (and after 2020-2022, I wouldn’t blame you), this live-action Barbie movie has become a big pop culture thing.

Another big thing happening is the release of Oppenheimer, the new Christopher Nolan biography about the father of the atom bomb.

What you may not have seen is the shotgun marriage of Barbie and Oppenheimer imagery, a stream of paradoxical meme marketing known as Barbenheimer.

It’s easy to see why the Barbenheimer trend is getting noticed: it’s not everyday one can show a mushroom cloud in vivid pinks and sparkles. Or, the famous quote that J. Robert Oppenheimer said after creating his deadly instrument that led to the Cold War, “I have become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

You can practically hear the record scratch sound effect in your head.

A Barbie doll with a blue car and a big pink mushroom cloud explosion in the background.

Why Barbieheimer Works

The short answer: it’s fun. It’s entertaining.

Marketing and branding have forgotten how to have fun with their image. Things are often so serious in marketing: this is the ultimate solution for your problem; this is the culmination of fifteen years of research and development. Everything has to sound like it’s made by the team behind Avengers: Endgame and twenty movies have been leading up to the release of this exciting new product or service.

Believing in your brand and projecting confidence in your benefits via marketing is never going to go out of style. What I’m saying is that it’s also alright to poke some fun at the problem you’re solving, or the market you inhabit.

That’s what some unknown hero/heroine did when they realized that this summer’s two most anticipated films were about a plastic doll and the invention of nuclear weapons. Two diametrically opposed subjects with movies set for release on the same day, and with good hype behind them.

Barbenheimer is as fascinating as how one splits an atom or imagining yourself poolside at the perfect Malibu beach house.

Finding a Way to Stand Out from the Crowd

Have you heard about the blue ocean strategy? It’s about finding a niche where there is little or no competition. When you’re in a patch of water where there’s a lot of fish fighting for the same meal, the result is slim pickens – a red ocean full of gristle and blood in the water. When you find that patch of water where there is no fight for dominance and there’s plenty enough food for everyone, you’ve discovered your blue ocean.

Hollywood movie marketing is one of the world’s toughest arenas. Studios spend millions, and sometimes hundreds of millions, to promote one single product. They will hype it up to be the must-see event of the year, or the decade. If you don’t catch this movie at the theater, you’ll be missing out on creating a new legendary memory.

The reality is that a lot of Hollywood movies fail to make a dent in the short-term memory of the public. Just look at this summer as evidence of that: the failure of the fifth Indiana Jones movie, Warner Bros. Flash movie failing to make money, and as of this week, the tenth Fast and Furious picture has just beaten the box office gross of the first F&F movie. Failure to meet expectations, yet each movie’s marketing was telling you it was the movie to see this summer.

Barbie and Oppenheimer may benefit from being new IPs in a sea of sequels and superheroes but they are also getting rave reviews. The Barbenheimer Effect came from the jaded consumer crowd; people know how ridiculous Barbie and Robert Oppenheimer are together. They get the joke, and they are smart enough to enjoy the positive qualities of two good movies and the larger meta weirdness of mixing those two universes together.

When’s the last time that someone in marketing your brand poked fun at your business model, the industry that you’re in, or your company?

A fake movie poster of Margot Robbie as Barbie and Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer, holding Barbie on his shoulder with a fiery explosion and palm trees in the background.

Don’t Be Afraid to Poke Fun at Your Own Brand

There’s a plumbing company called Mr. Swirl that serves as a great example of not taking oneself too seriously. No one is thinking of having a fun time when calling a plumber. In a sea of serious plumbing companies Mr. Swirl stands out as “the friendly plumber”. The branding on the company vans is eye-catching and communicates energy. The name of the company is practically making fun of its business model. They even apply a retro 1950s style to their audience.

If you’re going to call a plumber, why not a fun-looking one?

A 1950s style add for Mr Swirl, the friendly plumber.

I’m not saying that you need to rethink your law firm’s name from the partners’ surnames to “Crush Your Enemies LLC” and employ a Conan the Barbarian-esque model in your advertising, but every now and them why not take a step back and picture yourself poking fun at the day-to-day routine.

Find a way to test out ad copy that makes someone laugh out loud, like this divorce lawyer’s ad:

A convertible with the license plate "Was His", above a business card for a law firm.

Add a splash of Airplane style humor to your marketing mix. See what the feedback is. If it proves to be memorable, try another test.

You may be discovering your own blue ocean and the source of bigger opportunities and more revenue.

(Why aren’t there any law firms using barbarians with giant swords?)