Barbie vs Oppenheimer: Why Picking Your Battles is a Bombastic Brand-Building Tactic

Written by:
Dan Salkey
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On July 21st two starkly different, yet likely entertaining films, go head to head at the box office. I’m of course talking about the bombastic Margot Robbie reimagining of Barbie and the sobering Atom Bomb that is the Oppenheimer biographical thriller.

The former is a boozy bottomless brunch of a blockbuster whilst the other is a dark shot of espresso and a cigarette. Many have claimed that Barbie, with its marketing team that takes no days off, has doomed Oppenheimer to an underwhelming fate in mid-July. But it’s actually quite the opposite.

The supposed battle between Barbie and Oppenheimer for filmgoer seats on opening weekend is exactly what film execs at both studios will want. It’s manufactured marketing warfare at its finest and this is why it works so well:


By pitting the two films against each other in marketing the marketing teams behind the films are first making people aware that there is a choice to be made on July 21st and secondly making people believe the choice is between one of only two films. As a matter of fact, there are 11 films being released on the same day, something tells me Cobweb and Steph Curry’s feature documentary are the real losers here.


The audiences for both films have little to no crossover on paper (that said I will be seeing both). This supposed stark difference between the two highlights the key selling points of both films when next to each other. Barbie is fun, frivolous and comedic - Oppenheimer is dark, serious and thought-provoking. A direct point of comparison helps us make our choice easier.  


Oppenheimer is the real winner here. Barbie’s marketing team and the sponsor brands they work with are in overdrive. The quirky beef between the two films has spawned meme responses to nearly every one of Barbie’s marketing tactics suggesting what the Oppenheimer teams response might be - spoiler alert, it nearly always involved blowing something up. Without spending a dime Oppenheimer is repairing the reward of residual marketing spend every time Barbie makes a marketing move.


Most of all both films win because they grow category interest. The silly but fun beef raises interest in films released on July 21st. It’s now a date in my and many other people’s heads to go and see a film, whatever it may be. So maybe I was harsh on Steph Curry’s feature documentary, there’s a little silver lining for the lad.

All in all, the fortuitous if not bizarre beef that the internet has jumped on with tongue-in-cheek energy is a massive win for both blockbusters. When one film releases a trailer the other stars trending. It’s pretty much a marketing gift for both Warner Bros and Universal.