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Barbie, Lego, and how to win with Gen Z

By July 27, 2023No Comments
barbie and lego
Image credits: MATTEL®, LEGO® and Warner Bros.

Why Barbie and Lego are winning with Gen Z

Unless you are living under a rock, or maybe huddled in a bunker alongside Oppenheimer, you are aware of the pink storm that is Barbie. Starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, Barbie is a masterclass in how an old brand can win over a new audience. Box office profits soared to $162 million on opening weekend. Words like “kenergy” and “barbiecore” have joined the Gen Z vernacular. An actual Barbie dreamhouse is being teased on AirBnB. A product that launched in 1959 and arguably peaked in the 90’s with the release of their best selling Totally Hair Barbie is now dominating the cultural conversation again. And Gen Z is here for it.

A similar success occurred with the release of The LEGO Movie and its sequels in 2014. LEGO, with its iconic LEGO brick first released in 1957, is currently the world’s most valuable toy brand for the ninth year in a row. This is a record that began in 2014, which is not a coincidence. LEGO and Mattel, the creators of Barbie, have figured something out that other brands trying to reach Gen Z have struggled with.

Specifically, they succeeded with Gen Z by creating something that was authentic, meaningful, and communal.

The authenticity of not taking the brand too seriously

From Maya Rudolph stepping on the brick in The LEGO Movie 2: The 2nd Part to Ken declaring that his job is just “beach”, both brands poke fun at themselves and address some of the deeper issues with ironic awareness. Each movie is seriously on brand but never takes its brand too seriously. Not only does this make for great nostalgic entertainment, but it actually helps each brand hit on one of the big values for Gen Z – authenticity.

When a brand can laugh a bit at itself and bring others into that humor, it strips the brand of its pretentions. Barbie and all of her friends are not perfect. Stepping on LEGO bricks is a pain worse than walking across hot coals or broken glass. By embracing the flaws and laughing about them, both brands were able to successfully connect with an older audience while endearing themselves to a new one. The core of self aware humor is, in fact, self awareness. And self awareness breeds authentic trust.

The meaning in good storytelling

From Barbie wrestling through an existential crisis to a dad learning to give up control in order to bring his son into his hobby, both franchises understood the power of storytelling. The marketing for both franchises was incredible (and expensive). Each had big name actors. Hollywood gave each film all the hype it could muster. But in the end, the enduring power of both Barbie and the LEGO movies is the fact that they are, actually, really good movies.

Women of all ages can relate to a Barbie realizing she was made for more than just the superficial, artificial world she lives in. Men can feel the longing for meaning as Ken sings his woes of being just Ken. Emmet brings us into his fight against corporate control as he battles Lord Business. Batman can’t defeat the Joker alone, showing us all the significance of community as we struggle against chaos.

Yes, these movies are funny and nostalgic. Yes, each film caricatures the brand and were created specifically to build a merchandising empire. But they were also great stories that resonate with people of today’s world – both young and old. They explore what it means to be human in today’s society, and finding meaning and purpose, which have always been questions we’ve asked ourselves.

Gen Z wants to know that what they are doing is meaningful – to be invited into a bigger story than themselves. Barbie and The LEGO Movie bring Gen Z into a universal story that gives the brand a deeper meaning.

The communal power of culture building

According to Impero’s research noted in Advertising Week, 70% of Gen Z is motivated by a desire for community. AW writes, “Concerned with progress rather than success, they crave community and connection.” From hashtags to fashion trends, brand collabs and #GirlsNightOutBarbie, each brand created a community and culture that went beyond the film itself. Just buy tickets to Barbie and marvel at the sea of pink surrounding you.

LEGO brings generations together. Barbie is a lifestyle. You don’t experience these films alone, you experience them within a bigger culture. Each brand was inclusive without being exclusive. They had a big tent mentality to how they built the ethos of their brand.

It’s yet to be seen how or if Barbie will use this film to move further into gaming and beyond its plastic presence, but LEGO used the momentum from their films to launch into the gaming space. One of the reasons gaming and livestreaming is so popular for Gen Z is the power of belonging and community. By partnering with other IPs and creating games that are both fun and community driven, they have created a culture for Gen Z to live in together.

One of the best ways for brands to connect with Gen Z is to genuinely care about what matters to them. Gen Z wants authenticity, meaning, and community. How can your brand provide this?