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Brands Jump on the Pink Trend: An Exploration of Color in Marketing

With movie stars prohibited from promoting the new “Barbie” film amid the actors strike, toy company and Barbie doll-maker Mattel worked overtime to keep the movie top of mind ahead of its release on Friday.

Mattel has teamed up with various consumer brands which have formed licensing agreements with the toy maker to release limited-edition merchandise. Brands ranging from luxury apparel to fast food aren’t hesitating to paint their worlds pink to cash in on fan interest in the film.

“It adds some buzz and excitement to their line in the slow summer period. It’s classic merchandising tied to a movie, which is good and bad,” Allen Adamson, co-founder and managing partner of Metaforce, a marketing and branding agency, told CBS MoneyWatch.

There’s no real downside for Mattel and Warner Bros., the studio behind the film, to partnering with dozens of consumer brands. But whether or not the partnership proves successful for Airbnb, Balmain, Crocs, Gap and other Mattel collaborators, may depend on how popular the film is with audiences.

“For merchandisers, it’s only good if the movie is a success,” Adamson said. “If the movie is a thud, everyone is going to be putting a lot of pink merchandise on sale.”

Mattel’s strategy with the Barbie film also marks a notable departure from typical heritage brand marketing strategies.

“They usually work with a closed group of brand professionals and disseminate product like it’s gospel,” Jason Moran, creative director at marketing firm Red Antler, told CBS MoneyWatch. “But I think Mattel is acknowledging that this kind of preciosity is also how you end up with some of the most formulaic and skippable marketing work in the market.”

As opposed to working to “push” a message to consumers, Mattel has effectively “built a brand world that pulls consumers in,” Moran added.

From haute couture to fast food

Clothing and jewelry makers such as French fashion house Balmain and jewelry maker Kendra Scott, pool float-maker Funboy and home-sharing service Airbnb have all teamed up with Mattel to create Barbie-themed products and experiences. Airbnb has a listing for a one-night stay at Barbie’s Malibu Dreamhouse, while department store Neiman Marcus is exclusively selling a Balmain x Barbie collection. A hoodie from the limited-edition line retails for $1,350.

Then there’s fast food joint Burger King, which in Brazil is selling burgers with a pink-colored sauce for a limited time.

Mattel and clothing maker Gap also struck a deal to release a Gap x Barbie apparel collection featuring Barbie-branded T-shirts, hoodies, button-down shirts and more, available at gap.com.

“We are excited to partner with Gap to combine Mattel’s iconic brand portfolio with Gap’s signature products,” Josh Silverman, chief franchise officer and global head of consumer products at Mattel, said in a statement announcing the deal.

There’s even a Barbie-inspired reality television competition. Discovery-owned television channel HGTV launched the series, called “Barbie Dreamhouse Challenge” hosted by supermodel Ashley Graham earlier this month to coincide with the movie’s release. Eight different teams will give a Southern California home a Barbie-style renovation, with one team’s design being declared the “Dreamiest” at the end of the series.

Brands are wise to jump on the Barbie bandwagon, according to Moran of Red Antler.

“For them, partnering with Barbie provides huge added value beyond selling co-branded merchandise,” he said. “The Barbie brand equity is a massive boon to earned attention for smaller brands. It’s an awareness driver that enters them into the conversation.”

Live like Barbie for a night

These are just some of the official partnerships. There are also companies without formal agreements in place that are going pink to see some green, with pink cocktails, digital filters and more. Mattel did not immediately respond to CBS MoneyWatch’s request for comment on Barbie-themed product releases.

To draw attention and promote listings on their websites, vacation rental companies Hotels.com and VRBO, both owned by Expedia Group, compiled a list of pink properties “for anyone looking to live like their favorite pink-obsessed doll.”

The properties include this listing for a pink, A-Frame style house in Texas, available for $400 a night. The sofa, refrigerator, tableware and towels? Also pink.

For Mattel and Warner Bros., the glut of Barbie-related merchandise is a good thing, according to Adamson.

“It’s all good for Mattel because it’s more visibility for the film. You don’t have to be in the theater to pay attention to Barbie. You see it everywhere you turn.”

But from other brands’ perspectives, there may well be too much merchandise for consumers to choose from.

“All these brands are trying to hook their sales to and catch the wave of the Barbie buzz this summer. They all want to use it to catapult them from their invisibility,” he said.

Whether the movie is a blockbuster or bomb, store discount racks could soon be inundated with the pink merchandise.

“It’s good if the movie is a success and people see it. If the movie is a bellyflop, then everyone has an egg on their face. It needs to be more than flash in pan, and we don’t know if the buzz will last a day, a week, a month or longer,” Adamson said.

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