Josh Goldstine, Warner Bros.’ President of Worldwide Marketing, should hang up his spikes and call it a career. The marketing campaign around the theatrical release of BARBIE is one of the all-time great promotional pushes, and the WB team’s efforts have been rewarded with a massive box office return, both nationally and worldwide, and the kind of numbers during the week after release that you simply don’t see for any movie not called TITANIC.
From the giant Barbie boxes you could take photos in, to the endless tie-ins, to Margot Robbie’s parade of Barbie-inspired premiere costumes, the marketing team just nailed it again and again. They smartly leaned into the Barbenheimer double feature phenomenon, and likely prayed for a continuing heatwave. Thanks to Greta Gerwig, Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling (anyone trying to convince you that Gosling is better than Robbie in the movie is a villain, and I am ready to fight them), but also thanks to WB Marketing’s stupendous work, BARBIE has taken the mantle of “the movie that saved the movies” from TOP GUN: MAVERICK.
But my favorite thing the BARBIE team has done isn’t even marketing per se. It’s a PR hit that I’m confident was seeded and didn’t just happen by accident. On May 30th, Architectural Digest ran a piece on the film’s Barbie Dream House (this article in itself was a brilliant pitch concept) in which production designer Sarah Greenwood claimed that the production used so much pink paint, that there was a worldwide shortage.
This was one of those kind-of-sort-of-true-if-you-cock-your-head-at-a-certain-angle-and-squint kinds of statements. The supply chain had already put a crimp on pink paint production. The 2021 Texas freeze had destroyed key ingredients, etc. So really the Barbie movie had snapped up all the pink paint that was left, which isn’t quite the same thing as causing a global shortage, but whatever. The seed had already been sewn. BARBIE USED UP ALL THE PINK PAINT spread like wildfire. CNN wrote about it. The LA Times wrote about it. Smithsonian Magazine wrote about it! On TikTok & YouTube, videos about the shortage have racked up tens of millions of views. Then the fact checkers rushed in as NPR came out with a skeptical piece claiming that Barbie didn’t *really* use all the paint, and so on and so forth.
This is why this is the best piece of promotion the movie has:
– My parents who have not seen the movie and may not see the movie mentioned it to me.
– My friends in the industry mentioned it to me.
– My friends who are casual movie fans mentioned it to me.
It’s the perfect fun fact that lets literally anyone join in the global Barbie conversation without actually knowing anything about the movie. It’s trivia that requires no knowledge of the product, and has no age, gender, or interest barriers. This little fact seeded into an Architectural Digest article has easily snapped up tens of millions of dollars in earned media. It’s entertainment PR at its absolute finest. Bravo.
This past Tuesday Sound of Freedom, an independent film almost fully void of mainstream media coverage until it started racketing up millions in presale tickets, outperformed Disney’s 5th Indiana Jones movie in almost half as many theaters to win the July 4th box office.
The film comes from Utah-based distributor Angel Studios whose focus on a crowdfunding model and “faith-friendly” content reminds us of a profit formula that’s existed long before The Passion of the Christ (another Jim Caviezel-starring film) dominated the box office almost 20 years ago: find an underserved demographic and let them know you’ve got something for them. Hollywood—and by extension agencies like ours—now begins the ritual of revisiting whether crowdfunding is a viable marketing recommendation across the board or if, when it comes to funding and promoting movies, it’s a once-in-a-blue moon apples and oranges footnote.
It can’t be ignored that Sound of Freedom benefits from being the true story of Tim Ballard, a former government agent who quit his job to go overseas on a rescue mission to save children from human traffickers, and perhaps benefits even more from its “QAnon appeal” – having been adopted and touted by political conspiracy theory influencers who promote the film’s shelving by Disney in 2018 as some sort of grand coverup rather than unease over the film’s unproven claims.
Still, Angel Studios was smart about the delicacy with which they combined establishing why this story needs to be told with an altruistic approach to why each consumer’s dollar also contributes to a greater good and wrapping that in a package that could be easily digested and shared on social media. The film’s live ticketing tracker lets you contribute to and follow their goal of selling #2MillionFor2Million, representing the number of children ostensibly lost to human trafficking.
So is crowdfunding back with a vengeance or is Sound of Freedom 2023’s great box office anomaly? It’s worth noting that that the most successful crowdfunded projects have all either benefitted from knows IPs (Veronica Mars, Super Troopers) or known filmmakers (Zach Braff, Charlie Kaufman), so while we can’t say it’s right for just any project, it’s a good reminder that if you’re making something for an underserved market it pays off to bring your audience into the process as early as possible. Making your film feel not like something you’re giving to them but something you’re all giving to the world can be the difference between someone buying their ticket 10 days out and walking past an empty theater asking what a dial of destiny is.
The recent uproar over Disney’s new MCU show Secret Invasion centers on the studio choosing to use AI to create the opening credits. On its face, this isn’t a crazy idea – the show is about people being duplicated and replaced by alien doubles, and the not-quite-right versions of Sam Jackson and other characters shown in the opening credits play into that theme. Is it *good*? No, not really. But it at the very least makes some thematic sense.
The problem of course is that we’re smack in the middle of a writer’s strike in Hollywood, and one of the writers’ grievances is that there is currently nothing stopping studios from feeding any old movie idea into ChatGPT and having it spit out a no doubt awkward but also real, actual screenplay without spending a dime on a screenwriter.
So Disney’s choice to use AI instead of graphic designers and other artists is tone-deaf at best. The studio that built the sequence insists that many artists were still used in the process and that the AI didn’t take anyone’s job. That’s probably true, but it also misses the forest for the trees.
The issue is that we’re at an inflection point when it comes to technology, arguably the most important leap forward since the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution erased a whole subset of occupations (lamplighters, ice cutters, etc.), and the dawn of AI will likely erase another set. But AI can also birth a whole new field of work, and it can become a valuable tool, not a villain.
In the 2000s, lawmakers had no real understanding of social media and did a poor job regulating it. This has led to many of the problems we have today, from bots to nefarious influence campaigns, and Congress has still failed to get its arms around social networks. The writers – in demanding rules around AI – are not being paranoid. They’re being forward-thinking, and smartly demanding regulation so that a valuable tool doesn’t instead replace an industry to the detriment of film and television viewers everywhere. Our lawmakers would do well to follow their lead.
As a digital agency that does motion graphics and video editing, we can’t ignore AI. It’s the future whether we like it or not. So we choose to embrace it, while calling for common-sense guardrails that let us utilize it as a brilliant new tool in our toolbox, rather than letting it replace the work of talented artists, be they screenwriters or graphic designers.