Barbenheimer: The Marketing Duo We Didn’t Know We Needed

19 July 2023
by Annie-Mai Hodge
4 mins
Barbenheimer: The Marketing Duo We Didn’t Know We Needed

The movie event of the summer is almost upon us.

Barbie and Oppenheimer will go head-to-head at the global box office on 21st July in a clash that has sent the internet wild.


“Barbenheimer” is the name fans gave to two dramatically different films, Barbie and Oppenheimer, because they both had the same release date, is now a cultural phenomenon. 

There have been an abundance of memes and lots of fascinating discourse about how very different these two feature films are.

Imagine a fantasy comedy based on a nostalgic doll versus a biographic thriller about a physicist dubbed the “father of the atomic bomb”. The movies are polar opposites in terms of subject matter, tone and cinematography.

So much so that movie fans are gearing up for a memorable double feature to experience the full effects of that tonal whiplash.

The internet has even reached consensus that the optimal viewing order is Oppenheimer followed by Barbie. It appears the latter will provide some much-needed fun and levity after the former’s perhaps dour and serious three-hour runtime.

Barbenheimer is actually born from a well-documented market strategy known as ‘counterprogramming’. This is where two tonally different films or TV shows are released at the same time to appeal to very different audiences. Barbie distributor Warner Bros. Pictures probably spotted the potential for maximising revenue earlier this year, and it’s proven to be an excellent decision.

Barbie director Greta Gerwig and leading star Margot Robbie are not taking the face-off too seriously, though. After purchasing tickets for Nolan’s grimdark epic, the pair posted a picture on social media of themselves in front of an Oppenheimer movie poster. Gerwig has insisted the rivalry is all just for fun and urged cinephiles to watch all the big blockbusters in the cinemas this summer.

In contrast, Nolan has been a little pricklier about the issue after reportedly being upset that Warner Bros. scheduled Barbie to launch on the same day as his 12th cinematic release. Nolan was previously a Warner Bros. stalwart; every one of his movies since 2000’s Memento had been distributed by the studio.

Reports suggest they parted ways after Nolan took offence at Warner’s handling of the cinema exclusivity window during the pandemic, as the onus switched to streaming services. Bros. then decided to hit back and cheekily set up a legendary clash by pencilling in Barbie for the same day as Oppenheimer.

Cillian Murphy, who will play the titular theoretical physicist in Nolan’s three-hour epic, is in the same camp as Gerwig and Robbie. He stated that he was “100%” going to watch Barbie in the cinema and is rather jealous of everyone who will be able to “spend the whole day in the cinema” watching both movies.

He added: “I think it’s just great for the industry and for audiences that we have two amazing films by amazing filmmakers coming out on the same day.”

Barbie Loves Collaboration 

It would be an injustice to Barbie to refer just to the content from fans that have set social media ablaze in recent weeks. The marketing for Gerwig’s movie has been extraordinary in its scale and diversity, focusing on experiences and partnerships rather than just traditional ads and trailers. There have been plenty of those too, but it’s evident from the long list of brand crossovers where the team at Warner Bros. put most of their money.

There have been a Barbie-themed luggage collection at BEIS Travel, the launch of a limited-time Barbie Land Berry Pink frozen yoghurt at Pinkberry, and a ‘DreamHouse’ property in Malibu, hosted by Ken and listed on Airbnb. There have been literally 100+ of these co-branded collaborations.


The campaign has been perfectly pitched for a movie based on the iconic fashion doll manufactured by Mattel. The toy company has been investing heavily in marketing for the film and is hoping that will lay the foundations for increased brand awareness and revenue growth for years to come.

Oppenheimer’s marketing has been more understated, as you would expect. There aren’t any product collabs or fashion-oriented, limited-edition sets, and that makes sense considering the target market.

Box office estimates are in favour of Barbie at the moment, with the film projected to gross up to $100m compared to around $50m for Oppenheimer. The double-feature craze might push those totals up.

Regardless, Barbenheimer has been fascinating to watch in real time and is sure to live long in the memory, especially for marketers, even if the films don’t become critically acclaimed classics in their own right.

Digital marketing

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