How Hollywood is helping brands reach ‘ad avoiders’

Barbie driving her iconic pink Corvette in Barbie the Movie.

They say Hollywood has run out of original ideas, which is why we continue to see movie remakes and sequels, from Indiana Jones, to Scream to Guardians of the Galaxy.

But 2023 will be a unique year for American cinema, in at least one respect: The number of movies released based on consumer products.

So far, we have seen films focused on Tetris, Air Jordan and Super Mario Bros. premier on the big screen, with Barbie and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos-focused movies to soon follow.

The concept is nothing new — a movie based on the board game Clue came out in 1985 — but what is notable now is the sheer volume of these movies, as well as their impact on consumer behavior.

‘She’s everything. He’s just Ken.’

When a teaser for the upcoming Barbie Movie posted on April 4, it quickly went viral.

According to social analytics firm Brandwatch, there were more than 3.1 million mentions of Barbie across the social web in the first week of April. A related selfie generator resulted in one million posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok in five days, per data from analytics firm Comscore. And the video has since garnered more than 19 million views on YouTube.

Brandwatch found #BarbieTheMovie saw the largest spike on social, growing 730,000% above daily median mentions. @BarbieTheMovie wasn’t far behind with an increase of 723,000%. That, said Kellan Terry, head of public relations and communications at Brandwatch, marks the largest conversation growth metrics he can recall in his eight years at the social analytics firm.

He attributed the surge to the doll’s enduring popularity as a cross-generational icon.

“That status taps into the most powerful emotion on the internet: nostalgia,” Terry added.

Excitement for the movie, however, hasn’t yet translated to a bump in sales. (Mattel did not respond to a request for comment.)

Data from e-commerce platform Jungle Scout shows Barbie sales on Amazon held steady from March 13 to April 9 at about 150,000 units per week.

A positive correlation

When the movie premieres in July, however, it may provide a bump to Barbie’s bottom line.

That’s because movies based on consumer products have historically benefited the brands in question. The 2014 Lego Movie, for example, helped boost sales by 13%.

“What I’ve noticed with this data is a trailer doesn’t really move the needle too much,” said Cathryn Hurdle, PR strategist at Jungle Scout. “I think where we’ll see people actually going to buy merch and things like that is when the movie actually launches.”

Look no further than Air, which debuted on April 5 and grossed about $56 million worldwide in its first two weeks. In the last 30 days, Jungle Scout found revenue for Air Jordan is up 653% on Amazon — and unit sales have increased 634%. Hurdle did caveat that this uptick could also be attributable, at least in part, to March Madness.

Similarly, the Super Mario Bros. Movie, which also came out on April 5 and has since grossed nearly $830 million at the box office, has also yielded positive results for the video game franchise. Unit sales on Amazon are up 79% and revenue is up 64%. Searches for “Mario bro t-shirts” in particular are up 446%, according to Jungle Scout.

“The critics who panned it for being two-dimensional, lacking much plot, just don’t get it,” said David Leonhardt, president of ghostwriting firm THGM Writers. “The target audience are the loyal fans of what is probably the most popular video game franchise of all time.”

Ad avoiders — and new generations

But it’s not just about reaching diehard fans.

“Because consumers are literally pummeled with ads on every device, every billboard, every screen possible, there’s this lack of reaction and also something that [research firm] Gartner coins as ad avoidance,” said Mike Froggatt, senior director analyst at Gartner. “And so there really just is a lot of passive consumption going on, but no real active connection.”

In fact, Gartner research shows 70% of brands will redeploy at least 10% of their media budgets toward product placement in entertainment content by 2024.

“It’s an attempt really to hit those ad avoiders and build up their fan base because it’s not a small investment, when you think about it, to do a big movie studio tie-in,” he added.

What’s more, as online tracking becomes more difficult following regulations like GDPR and CCPA, brands are looking for new opportunities to capture attention and drive affiliation.

“I think these branding opportunities represent significant upside for brands that are seeing lower reach on TV [and] that are seeing higher competition across things like streaming,” Froggatt added. “The goal is to drive awareness, but then build those pools in order to activate down the line and build those lifetime customer ties and values.”

Dustin Ray, co-CEO and chief growth officer of document preparation service Incfile, agreed that these movies can help maintain brand awareness — and breathe new life into franchises as they age.

“Movies aimed at a specific age group often remain relevant because, as one generation outgrows the movie, another takes its place,” he said. “Also, if a movie makes an impression on a child, it can enjoy enduring popularity. They may eventually want to watch it with their own children, inspiring long-lasting brand loyalty.”

‘A masterclass’

And so if the Barbie Movie continues to play its cards right, the brand should likely ultimately benefit in increased sales as well.

Terry called Barbie Movie promotion so far “a masterclass in giving your audience what they want,” including allowing fans to replicate images for themselves as if they were in the film, along with memes and jokes.

“That sense of online humor is what you should attempt to harness in 2023,” he added. “People aren’t shy in sharing their wants and expectations. Brands just need to be savvy enough to listen, absorb and deliver based on those wants.”

Originally published by Campaign, written by Lisa Lacy

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