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How brand Barbie reinvented itself as a pop culture sensation

Guest Article | Elly Strang - Content and Communications Lead, Tracksuit

I had the pleasure of working alongside Elly Strang in a past life. She always struck me as an incredibly intelligent, motivated and insightful chick. So I was so delighted when I heard she had joined the team at Tracksuit as Content and Communications Lead. They are so lucky to have here and she is totally rocking this role. I was more delighted when she agreed to share some insights from Tracksuit and what they uncovered when Barbie overtook the world. One of the biggest marketing moments in the making and what really happened. **Note this is Aussie data but they totally took the opportunity next level (wouldn't you if Margot Robbie was a hometown gal?)

The Barbie movie is the biggest marketing moment of 2023. What do consumers think of this legacy brand’s quest for relevance?

It’s a Barbie world, and we’re all just living in it. Unless you’ve been taking a digital detox, you would’ve noticed the Barbie brand painting the world pink recently.

The iconic doll was first introduced to the world in 1959 and 64 years on, a movie adaptation hit cinemas July 20. Just four weeks into screening, the film has been wildly successful and already made more than $1 billion USD at the global box office.

Behind the film and the wider marketing campaign by Mattel is a legacy brand fighting to stay culturally relevant. If Barbie can win over a wider audience, a far bigger opportunity awaits outside of the toy aisle.

By regaining cultural relevance, Barbie can join the likes of Disney and LEGO in scaling toy lines into brand experience empires.

Tracksuit has been tracking Barbie’s brand in Australia from May to July. Our initial data shows that Barbie’s legacy (and the controversies that linger alongside it) still influence consumers’ views.

Currently, Barbie lags behind other well known toy brands LEGO and Hot Wheels in relatability. Just 49% of respondents agree Barbie is a brand that they relate to, versus 75% of respondents for LEGO and 66% for Hot Wheels.

As for brand love, 52% of respondents agreed Barbie is a brand that they love, versus 82% of respondents about LEGO and 67% for Hot Wheels.

Demographic disparities also show the challenges the Barbie brand is up against. Barbie’s brand awareness is strongest in older generations aged 55 and over in Australia, likely due to the brand’s legacy having less resonance with younger consumers.

Barbie brand awareness in Australia

  • 18 to 34-year-olds: 72% brand awareness (~2.9M)

  • 55+ year-olds: 91% brand awareness (~2.8M).

Barbie is also still seen as a very gendered toy and the brand is also most commonly associated with being a ‘doll for girls’ in Australia.

Other raw responses from people surveyed include: “Gender stereotypes” “Old fashioned” “Sexist and demeaning”. Old fashioned was the top brand association, with 90 people’s answers to this open-ended question referencing this.

So, can Barbie turn consumer perceptions around?

Despite the negative associations that linger, we believe consumer sentiment will change in the coming months once all of the marketing activity and the film has had time to resonate.

Mattel President and COO Richard Dickson said Mattel sees the movie as a first step to “elevate the Barbie narrative into a pop culture sensation”.

“The evolution of Barbie can be seen as a case study of how brands with legacy reinvent themselves,” Richard said.

Though Tracksuit’s research shows that Barbie has gaps in relatability and lovability due to previously showing a limited construct of what a woman can aspire to be, this is being reshaped by making the brand relevant to a much wider audience.

Barbie is targeting more broadly than ever before and showing up in channels that bring people of different genders, sexualities and ages into the conversation.

This expands the audience beyond those who play with dolls, as anyone can engage with the brand through its diverse range of product partnerships, including a luggage collaboration with Beis Travel, Barbie pink glassware by Dragon Glassware, eat Pinkberry’s Barbie frozen yoghurt, or select the Barbie dream car in the Forza Horizon 5 video game.

This marketing strategy builds future demand with people who aren’t interested in purchasing from the Barbie brand yet, but may be in the future (particularly as its product range expands beyond the toy aisle).

In the future, we expect to see brand experiences expand to theme parks, TV series and other product lines that will continue to snowball off the back of this masterclass brand invention.

Other legacy businesses, take note. Imagination, brand is your creation!


Elly Strang is the Content and Communications Lead at Tracksuit. Tracksuit is beautiful, affordable and always on brand tracking that helps retailers demonstrate the impact of their work. Tracksuit surveys consumers in your category about your brand so you can track the impact of your marketing investment (and your competitors!) and make more informed decisions about brand growth. Drop Elly an email or visit


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