Why the Barbie Movie’s Taglines Dress Down the Barbie Brand

Taglines help connect your brand to the largest audience possible. But the upcoming Barbie movie shows how bad taglines can spell trouble. Read on for our thoughts on the internet's response to some baffling Barbie movie poster taglines.

Creating taglines is tricky.

For a long time, taglines have been a cornerstone of any strong marketing campaign. “Think different,” “Just do it,” “I’m lovin’ it.” These pithy, memorable statements help to connect an idea—a directive—with your brand and what it stands for. 

Even if a consumer doesn’t yet know what your company does, if they can recognize your tagline from commercials, podcast ads, or billboards, you’ve made the first step toward both their short-term purchase and long-term brand investment. 

Of course, for a tagline to effectively convert customers, it needs to be catchy! That’s why we copywriters spend hours harnessing and refining a brand’s core tenets down to a short, simple statement that’s engineered to inspire action from global audiences.

Tagging in a tagline

Taglines raise the age-old question: is all publicity good publicity? The internet’s response to the upcoming Barbie movie’s taglines has us wondering. The film’s main poster prominently features Margot Robbie’s Barbie lounging in the negative space of a large ‘B’. Note her gaze: she’s staring right at the camera, which juxtaposes nicely against Ryan Gosling’s Ken admiring her from below.

This composition visually parallels the tagline found in the poster: “She’s everything. He’s just Ken.” While we don’t know much about the movie’s story, it’s clear from this poster that it will prominently center around Ken jonesing after the titular character who doesn’t reciprocate his interest.

The tagline makes sense; in five words, we understand the core dilemma separating the two characters. But the tagline’s flat frankness both tries not to jump out at you—it’s less a directive, more an observation—and attempts to differentiate itself to audiences by emphasizing its pithiness. This friction gives the tagline an inherent yet perhaps unintentional comedic angle—one that’s ripe for the internet’s clowning pile-ons.

Namely, tweets. Take photos of protagonists from a well-known movie with a fairly standard setup—a young woman who’s in some way particularly notable is pursued by a physically attractive yet otherwise unremarkable man; an unlikely romance ensues—and caption it with the aforementioned Barbie tagline. The tweet structure here is simple enough that anyone with even the most rudimentary cultural literacy can understand and share their own version of it.

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Memeing for viral clout

Virality ensues. Pick your poison: Sophie Sheridan and Sky Rymand from Mamma Mia; Amy and Nick Dunne from Gone Girl; Katniss Everdeen and Gale Hawthorne from The Hunger Games; Princess Diana and Charles III from, uh, Great Britain; and in that wondrously circular way only the fundamentally self-referential internet can manifest, Amy March and Theodore Laurence from Barbie director Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women.

But does this situation help the movie? It’s complicated. The core obstacle many social media spectators will need to overcome with their first encounter with this meme is simply confusion. If you hadn’t already seen the Barbie poster, at first blush the meme is confounding. 

For example, it’s never immediately clear that the tweet’s text is reciting a tagline. When the tweet features two separate images of the respective characters as opposed to the two together in frame, it may not be obvious that there’s a relationship there. And who is Ken? Is Liam Hemsworth playing Ken in…wherever that photo of Liam Hemsworth is from?

Marketing in the modern era

It speaks to a fundamentally modern way that audiences engage with marketing—intentionally deployed or not. Whereas the McDonald’s “ba-da-ba-ba-ba, I’m lovin’ it!” slogan was historically always sung in immediate proximity to a narrator reminding you that slogan is for McDonald’s, today you might hear this jingle remixed and completely divorced of its original context on TikTok. 

This unintentional approach to viral marketing becomes yet another content badge on the sash that is your Twitter timeline, likely sandwiched between tweets advertising the latest sneaker drop, an Associated Press breaking news headline, or commentary on how exciting the latest Hollow Knight trailer is or isn’t.

Meanwhile, another Barbie movie meme adjacent to the she’s-this-he’s-that one emerged from what else but another series of posters. Each spotlights a character accompanied by a corresponding tagline that makes for a decidedly shallow observation on what their role is, as if a child is describing their new doll to a parent. 

This is likely what they were going for, but the final results for each poster—while likely the product of months of considered thought—ultimately seem like cookie cutter afterthoughts. It’s of little surprise that this regimented approach made the Barbie movie an instant viral meme, but the spirit here feels more like the posters’ designers are missing some practical joke audiences are playing on them.

There is one distinct difference compared to this approach over the “he’s Ken” meme: this poster does feature the movie’s name, so there’s way less room for audience confusion or misinterpretation about what they’re looking at when they encounter one of these memes. But if the meme tests a viewer’s patience, this marketing approach—one which feels more deliberate in its desire to court the internet’s memery—can critically backfire.

A legendary venue got worthy product descriptions

Madison Square Garden (MSG) has hosted all of the greats—from the Beatles to the Rangers. In 2015, the infamous venue decided it was high time to upgrade its ordering system for VIP guests in corporate suites (enough with faxing!). The privately owned venue brought MarketSmiths on board to write product descriptions for all dishes, cocktails, and wine on offer. Our resident food, wine, and liquor copywriters nailed the copy, doing justice to the dazzling accommodations that make MSG so legendary. As a result, MSG reported corporate-suite YoY  revenue growth from $1.6M to $11M.

> Read the full case study

Taking taglines to the next level

As of this writing, Barbie is officially slated to release the same day as The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan’s next film Oppenheimer—a beguiling fact that’s inspired further levels of memeitude. One film is a morose look at the architect of one of the darkest moments in human history, while the other asks: “What if a Barbie doll was a real person?” So of course, the two are going to have entirely different marketing approaches. 

But Barbie is one of the most beloved toy brands in the world, one which in its over 60-year history has evolved in parallel with advancements in women’s rights and societal perception. The brand’s first live action film would be better served with a marketing approach that props up its positive qualities.

So copywriters: when it comes to selling concepts that are a little over the top, embrace and embody what makes your product or service out there. In doing so, you better ensure your brand will command the respect it deserves.

Looking for copy and graphic design that quickly and effectively shows prospects what your brand is about? Get in touch with the team at MarketSmiths!

Devin Raposo

Devin Raposo

Forever curious, Devin writes to learn. Before becoming a ‘Smith, he studied as a software engineer while honing his craft writing short fiction as well as acerbic cultural critique in the arts space.

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