This weekend, just three weeks after it started showing in theaters, the big movie Barbie from Warner Bros. Discovery made more than $1 billion from ticket sales all over the world. In the United States and Canada, people spent $459 million to watch it in theaters, and in other countries, they spent $572.1 million, says Warner Bros. Discovery.
Barbie’s success is because of its smart marketing strategy. They worked with other brands, had big 3D experiences, and more. This made a lot of people excited about Barbie. But even though it feels like everyone in the world is talking about this magical movie, a new study by Milieu Insight found that people in Singapore are not as interested in it.
“It was found that 51% of millennials in Singapore, the film’s target audience, were not interested in watching the movie”
The study, done between July 24 and 26, just after the movie came out on July 21, also discovered that only 4 out of 10 people had watched the movie or wanted to watch it.
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At the same time, the study discovered that among young people in the Gen Z group, 63% of those asked had seen the movie or were interested in seeing it. Many of them were curious about Barbie’s character, and that’s why they wanted to see the movie. Additionally, 35% of the Gen Z group said they wanted to watch the movie because of the trailer and ads they saw.
But among those who didn’t want to watch the movie, 57% said they weren’t excited about Barbie as a brand or character. One out of three said they don’t think they’re the kind of people the movie is made for, or they like different kinds of movies more.
These results are surprising because it seems like everyone is talking about Barbie all over social media.
But did they try hard enough to make people in Singapore interested? Could they have done more to make money from selling things like toys and tickets, or was the movie always going to be a problem from the beginning?
Not the Dream in Singapore
To begin with, it’s important to understand that Barbie might not have the same nostalgic impact on Singaporeans as it does on millennials in Western countries.
Jian Yang, who manages and plans things at Distilleri (and loves Barbie a lot), said that Barbie wasn’t really a super popular brand in Singapore. “In different parts of the world, there’s usually one big doll brand – like Barbie in the US, Sindy in the UK, Steffi Love in Germany, Licca-chan in Japan. But in Singapore, we had most, if not all of these brands (plus some new ones like Rainbow High, Bratz, Blythe, and OMG dolls), so not many of our girls really grew up loving Barbie,” he said.
He also mentioned that Singapore doesn’t have a lot of space, so our young girls usually collected small figures instead of big playsets. This meant they had less exciting play experiences, which made them like Barbie less.
“Since we’re a developed country, our kids might have stopped liking Barbie earlier than girls in other places because we have a lot of technology available,” Yang added. “So, they spent fewer years liking Barbie compared to other girls. This means they didn’t have as much time to really love the brand.”
And it’s true. According to Milieu Insight, only 33% of Singaporeans wanted to watch the movie because they had good memories of playing with Barbie when they were young.
Lars Voedisch, who’s a big boss at PRecious Communications, agrees with Yang. He said that while Barbie has a long history in Singapore, it hasn’t been talked about a lot recently. So, it had to compete with other things for attention and money.
“Barbie is more of a Western brand, so it might not be as popular with everyone in the country, especially the millennials and older people,” he said.
These reasons might be why not a lot of people in Singapore were excited about the Barbie movie.
Lack of Courage
Even though the Barbie movie wasn’t a special memory for many in Singapore, it could have still taken advantage of the excitement people had on social media. There was a cool thing where fans could put their own pictures into Barbie Land and lots of people were talking about it online. If brands had kept the excitement going, the movie could have done even better.
“To get more people interested and excited, Singaporean brands could have made a creative campaign with things like virtual reality experiences and clever use of social media. This would have been good for the tech-loving people in Singapore and made Barbie more modern,” said Voedisch.
He also said that to make the campaign really work, they could have focused on specific groups of people in Singapore. They could have made messages and ads that fit what those people like. They could have used data to make sure the campaign was right for those people, which could have made more people interested in Barbie.
But maybe the reason why this didn’t happen is because brands didn’t want to take a big risk and do something bold, suggested Yang.
“It’s a larger conversation about our industry rather than just about the Barbie movie, but I always feel that the thing we’re lacking in is courage”
He kept explaining that all the clients have bosses above them, so they play it safe and don’t try big things to avoid disappointing them.
“Even more than that, they don’t take risks. Barbie as a brand (not just a doll or movie, but a brand) had a big chance to make everything pink, have pink parties, pink drinks, throw big parties with fancy people dressed in pink, and use the fun of influencers, fans, and curious people. This could have made the brand really stand out,” Yang said.
This could have also made the brand’s story more interesting and strong. This way, even if you liked or didn’t like Barbie, you would have wanted to know more about the brand, Yang said. “Thinking of ideas wouldn’t have been a problem because I’m sure these marketers and their companies are good at their jobs,” he said, and added:
“The marketer’s problem would have been the ‘who pays for it’ question. And I feel no one wanted to step up.”
“It was really disappointing for me to see this movie doing so well worldwide in the news, but then seeing that the local efforts weren’t as good. There were few toys available, brands didn’t try new things, and they didn’t show much bravery in being part of this big thing happening worldwide,” Yang said.
Agreeing with him, Melissa Yik, who’s in charge of Singapore at M&C Saatchi Performance, said that compared to other places, there’s not as much experiential marketing happening in Singapore. Only a few brands brought in Barbie products for online shopping, and local brands didn’t really do anything Barbie-themed.
Supporting the idea that local companies weren’t brave enough, Ranganathan Somanathamn, who started RSquared Global Ventures, said that in Singapore, brands are not very willing to take big risks for new ideas. “Changing how people see Barbie might have made things uncertain because of how people already think about the brand,” he said. He added that now that the Barbie movie is so popular, brands can try to find ways to connect with it that fit their own ideas and make the most of the chance.
Lack of budgets
There might have been another problem too. The advertising business is taking longer to get back on track after Covid-19, and people are still being careful about what they spend money on. Clients are trying to figure out which campaigns and movies are worth investing in, suggested Craig Harvey, who watches over research in Asia Pacific at IPG Mediabrands.
Because money for marketing is limited now due to the bad economy, companies could learn from Starbucks, according to Kevin Kan, who’s in charge of experience stuff at Break Out Consulting Asia. He said that even with a small budget, smart marketers can use the excitement from other big campaigns that match what their customers care about.
He talked about Starbucks’ Blackpink collection as an example. It had pink and black things that were limited and special. He said this is a great way to join in on the Barbie excitement. “Even if it’s not exactly Barbie, it’s smart to use another promotion’s budget that fits the same brand feelings. The Starbucks stuff has pink and shiny things, which fit with Barbie’s campaigns going on now, without needing a big marketing budget,” he said.
Cheryl Teng, who’s in charge of making plans at VaynerMedia Asia Pacific, agreed with him. She said that even with the problems, it’s not too late for brands to join in, but they have to do things that make customers pay attention and be part of conversations in a cool way. “Some people will always think the movie is just trying to get people to buy stuff,” she said. She added, “The real challenge is: Can you change things up and still connect with people?”
How did the movie perform in Singapore compared to its global success?
A study by Milieu Insight found that interest in the Barbie movie among Singaporeans was not as high, despite its global popularity.
What were the main reasons for disinterest in the movie among certain groups?
Among those who weren’t interested in the movie, 57% mentioned not feeling enthusiastic about the Barbie brand or character. Additionally, around one-third stated that they didn’t consider themselves the target audience or preferred other movie genres.
How did the use of space and technology impact Barbie’s popularity in Singapore?
Due to space constraints in Singapore, collecting smaller figures rather than playsets was common among young girls. Additionally, with the prevalence of technology, children in Singapore might have outgrown Barbie earlier, resulting in less time to develop brand affinity.
What was suggested as a potential marketing approach for the Barbie movie in Singapore?
Experts proposed that Singaporean brands could have adopted innovative marketing campaigns that leveraged virtual reality experiences and creative use of social media. Targeted messaging based on specific demographics could have increased interest and engagement.