What 'Barbie' Taught Us About Hitching Our Pink Convertibles To Trends

2023 will always be remembered as “The Summer of Barbie,” thanks to the diversification of the pink-tinged brand. The Barbie portfolio didn’t just diversify — it blanketed whole continents. From fast-food condiment packaging to high-end celeb luggage, Barbie imagery seemed to be everywhere due to Mattel’s seemingly endless licensing partnerships.

Yet, despite this undeniable Barbie World branding invasion success, I suspect that many companies will remain hesitant to consider such bold types of licensing arrangements. This protectiveness and risk aversion make sense, given that brand image is difficult to build and maintain. But brands need to lean into a mindset of “how we can connect with our audience in an out-of-the-box way” -- rather than avoiding a step outside of the box altogether.

Strategic brand licensing can be tricky to master. However, it can also be highly lucrative and powerful when handled correctly. To glean all the advantages of licensing with brands outside of your conventional wheelhouse, à la the Barbie franchise, consider applying these strategies:



1. Drop “that’s not on-brand” thinking.  Marketing professionals use terms like “on-brand” and “off-brand” all the time. But too many organizations have become obsessive in their black or white thinking. The truth is that the pathway to loyalty, brand awareness, and revenue requires you to be flexible. If you’re not willing to stay open to trying different approaches or being a little inventive, you’re limiting your success.

2. Seek opportunities for untried brand collaborations.  Monopoly and McDonald’s somehow made us forget how dissimilar their brands were by forging ahead with their absolutely one-of-a-kindpromotional partnership. In fact, their collaboration was met with so much initial interest that it has become a mainstay. Every few years, the Monopoly game at McDonald’s pops up again — and everyone rushes out for shakes, fries, fun, and freebies.

Instead of dismissing collaborations immediately as impossible or ill-fitting, you’ll need to reframe your thinking and shift your attitude. Admittedly, this can be difficult depending on where you work. In many organizations and corporate cultures, the tendency is to be careful and cautious first and foremost. But businesses that shed their traditionalism can take the guerrilla marketing route and suddenly compete, even if they don’t have a big budget.

3. Hitch your convertible to a hot trend.  The nostalgia and whimsy of “Barbie” turned out to be an irresistible movement that tons of businesses wanted to be part of. It’s not the only trend or movement out there, though. Your job should be to keep up with cultural phenomena so you can tap into movements or even the popularity of an individual or fad.

Take the mash-up between United Overseas Bank (UOB) and Taylor Swift.UOB wanted to stay on the pulse of what was happening, so it offered exclusive presale access to Swift’s record-breaking Eras Tour in Southeast Asia. The partnership paid off in spades: Not only did people get early access to see Swift in concert, but UOB saw an increase in credit and debit card applications across the board.

Unexpected strategic brand licensing partnerships can be great ways to flip the script and stay in front of today’s hurried consumers. In other words, don’t be afraid to explore creative licensing arrangements. They might just be your ticket to improved loyalty, instant fandom, and broader reach.

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