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Awards Case Studies The Drum Awards For Marketing EMEA Marketing

This campaign painted the UK pink to celebrate Barbie. Here’s how they did it


By The Drum, Editorial

June 13, 2024 | 7 min read

Taking Media Gold at The Drum Awards for Marketing EMEA 2024 is Pink Sky Thinking from PHD UK and Warner Bros. Discovery. Here is the award-winning case study.

Example of the award-winning work

Example of winning work

Background & Objectives

Given its unprecedented commercial success, it may seem trite to say that the objective for the UK launch of the Barbie movie was similar to most other movies - give it a big opening weekend that will kick-start longer-term box office success. But that’s genuinely what the objective was.

Looking back on its success, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Barbie movie was always destined to be a hit. That is far from the truth. Because pre-launch, the movie came with misperceptions…

The Challenge

Prior to its launch, the perception was that the Barbie movie would be for 6-year-old girls who played with dolls. However, our knowledge of the movie’s plot and vision meant we knew Barbie’s take on feminism and gender roles would have broader appeal than was being presumed.

Barbie was a genre-defying movie that couldn’t be put in a box – so we set out to make it feel like an unmissable UK pop culture event for EVERYONE.

As the movie’s trailer went on to say “If you love Barbie, this movie is for you. If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you”.

Why We Did What We Did

The summer of 2023 was looking grey and serious for the UK – a seriously grey economy with a seriously grey weather forecast to match. Barbie’s summer release competition was also a bit serious, with the new Christopher Nolan movie Oppenheimer offering serious competition (in every sense of the word) on the same release date.

In response, we took this as a unique opportunity to add playfulness and color to a sea of seriousness. Not just to make the Barbie movie an unmissable part of the UK’s summer but for its launch campaign – and the channels we used to launch it - to be sources of fun and enjoyment in their own right. All it needed was some Pink Sky Thinking.

What We Did – Strategy

Our strategy aimed to do one thing: create a cultural phenomenon by painting the UK pink.

We’d do this by delivering something for everyone in an integrated media launch that used creative media formats to brighten every facet of British popular culture across the summer. But if you want a campaign to appeal to everyone, you’ve got to create a media approach that’s *got* something for everyone AND creates an effect that elevates the campaign beyond being a media interaction.

So, we got creative and put together an integrated media campaign of advertising, experiences, content, and partnerships that fed each other to build both engagement and a sense of omnipresence.

Our Strategic Rules:

  • Every comms touchpoint had to:

    • Place the movie – and its trademark Pink – into UK popular culture, and/or

    • Create a moment (in real life or on social media) where the British movie audience could place themselves into the pop culture moment that was being created around the movie.

Our Executional Rules:

  • Whether we were targeting entertainment culture, music culture, shopping culture, social media culture or wider-popular culture, we had three rules that each execution and channel needed to adhere to:

    • Always Pink (making it THE color of the summer in a grey UK)

    • Always Positive (no cynicism allowed, despite the British predilection for snarkiness)

    • Always Playful (everything we did should raise a smile and create a small moment of joy in someone’s day)

What We Did – Execution

On UK streets, we teased the nation with category-defying, unbranded posters that only featured Barbie’s trademark pink and the movie’s release date and we ‘Barbie-fied’ British transport icons by creating pink ‘Black cabs’ and pink sparkly buses (that are famously red).

Snap Filters allowed Brits to create Barbie Land wherever they were, and our Barbie Selfie Generator enabled >340,000 fans to share their inner Barbie or Ken on social media. People could even become Barbie or Ken in real life (and share it on social media) by stepping into life-sized Barbie boxes across the country.

In Love Island, British TV’s hottest summer show, super-fan Margot Robbie starred in a bespoke Barbie TV ad, explaining the movie’s plot using the unique language and catchphrases from the show she loves.

In music, we partnered with Atlantic Records to host an album launch influencer listening party with Barbie soundtrack producer Mark Ronson; ran a live MTV TikTok broadcast with the cast; and took over national dance radio station Kiss – rebranding the station in pink and running Barbie playlists on-air.

And in retail, we staged an takeover, real-life retail takeovers and turned glass shopping centre elevators into Barbie boxes.

By creating a pop culture phenomenon, brands including Google and Unilever then started doing our marketing for us with their own spontaneous Barbie-fied moments in the run-up to the movie’s release – further amplifying the cultural impact of the campaign at no cost to Warner Bros.


Barbie had the highest UK launch week awareness of ANY Warner Bros. release in its 100-year history. This translated into its opening weekend box office, with the movie delivering £18.4m in its first three days.

The Barbie movie became Warner Bros.’s biggest UK box office release EVER, exceeding the performance of British institutions like the Harry Potter franchise. To contextualize our UK success, Barbie’s box office delivered a 51% UK over-performance v US box office (meaning its UK box office was +51% vs. the pro rata expectation based on the movie’s US performance – showing that our unique UK approach had made a disproportionate difference).

This was an entertainment launch campaign that was most definitely #Kenough.

Ready to get your work recognized on a global stage? Enter The Drum Awards today. Need more inspiration, read our Award Winning Case Studies.

Awards Case Studies The Drum Awards For Marketing EMEA Marketing

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