Four years ago, I knew exactly who I was. Business owner. Cheerleader, marketer, therapist, teacher, chief worrier and occasional good guy.
Then Covid hit, and things changed. The tourism business that was too successful to walk away from became easy to walk away from (no clients. Duh.) I forged out a new direction. Coach, trainer, author, speaker.
Only, these jobs – these offers - are same same but different. And I am confusing everyone, including myself. My good mate Clive said years ago, ‘It’s strange. People think I’m a very serious guy, but I’m actually a lot of fun. And you come across as quite a fun guy, but you’re actually quite serious.’
He nailed it. I love the Jester part of me, and that is reflected in my books, my social media and my blogs. But my clients, and the work that I do, are really about the serious business of moving the dial, being better at execution and figuring out vision and priorities. And I keep on feeling like I need to lean in harder to that serious part of me. The Sage, the Ruler, the Caregiver. And I feel a constant conflict in that because I worry that I’m losing my authentic self in the process. At the same time, I don’t want the people that I’m helping, people with serious problems that need serious solutions, to misconstrue my intent from my goofy Arnie videos.
Why can’t I be both? Fun guy and hard metrics-driven accountability dude?
And what happens in the meantime, while I struggle with this question?
Well, the obvious solution is to take Friday afternoon off and go watch the Barbie movie. Because, you know, most of life’s questions have answers you can find in this ABSOLUTE MASTERPIECE.
I really think Hollywood is getting its shit together. Last year they dished up Maverick, a movie that restored my faith in the system. This year, they gave us the Barbie movie. Now, admittedly, Warner Bros also served up the Flash, and don’t get me started on the dog’s breakfast that was. But back to Barbie.
Caroline and I reflected on this as we walked out of the cinema, both of us smiling. I’m a guy, we have two boys, and she hadn’t played with a Barbie doll for 40 years. And yet there we were, sneaking away from work on a Friday afternoon to the flicks. I was so engrossed I even missed the afternoon huddle.
Here are five things you need to know about Barbie, its core customer, the core purpose of the movie, the value proposition and the key activities deployed to make it a box office behemoth, $1.5 billion and counting…
1. CORE CUSTOMER
The stunning visuals, the cartoonish set pieces and the succession of characters and outfits are clearly aimed at the millions of little girls (and their mothers) who will buy the toys. It’s a Mattel promotion movie, after all. The moms will also not mind Ryan Gosling’s unreal abs and vulnerable sexuality. In that vein, show me a male in the world who will not react to the otherworldly sensual beauty of Margot Robbie. And male or female, even folks who don’t care for fun or gorgeous will find it compelling. The fast-paced plot also speaks to all the wannabe intellectuals among us who really have to pay attention to keep up with the abundance of clever lines that allude to subtext like the patriarchy, the way men also feel marginalized in an overt feminist narrative, exclusion of people that don’t fit in, the corruptive effect of power, and the undervalued virtue of kindness. So the only people who I can see not really thinking it’s cool are boys under 12. So in an act of pure wizardry, the movie manages to nail a few different demographics.
2. CORE PURPOSE
To sell toys. And movie tickets. Duh. But the underlying core purpose is to celebrate beauty and innocence while shining a harsh light on exclusion, co-dependence and the worrying tendency in our modern world to try and sugarcoat everything. Another great kids movie that spoke to a serious theme was Inside Out. The world is a rough place, and we shouldn’t try to protect our kids from all the crap that is in it. Sadness has its place… in fact, it’s what makes life worth living. The Barbie evolution from living in a bubble to her first gynie appointment is gold, and watching it navigate all these themes seamlessly is pure joy.
3. VALUE PROPOSITION
The Barbie brand (PINK) is one of the strongest in the world. It has a strong script backed up by great casting and acting. I mean, you have Will Ferrell (playing himself), Margot Robbie (a true star), Ryan Gosling (this generation’s Hugh Grant/Matthew McConaughey), America Ferrera (eloquent) and the unsung heroes of Michael Cera (wish he had more lines) – and Kate McKinnon (steals every scene she’s in). Never mind a cameo from YOU CAN’T SEE ME! John Cena as a… wait for it… merman. I mean. Come on. A morality message for the times laced into an entertaining story that’s so over the top that you forgive it for being so cheesy. If you’re going to go for self-parody, this must be the new gold standard.
4. KEY ACTIVITIES
First and foremost: spend money. Recruit the top talent (Greta Gerwig to direct, Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling to star), have a great script, be clear on what the movie is. Then activate a monster marketing machine in all channels. Social media, partnerships (Airbnb activations for one), traditional marketing. Big money, because it's clear this movie is a masterpiece. And because you did all that, and because the movie is that good, a strong opening will be followed by insane word of mouth and you have a global winner fitting of an iconic product. Did I mention how hard you lean into the pink brand? Much like Nando's just needs to put up its font to know it’s them, Barbie only needs to flash the colour to announce itself. Finally, say thank you for a bit of luck by coming out at the same time as the very serious Oppenheimer, which both juxtaposes and reinforces the dual nature of your offering.
I honestly thought it was an insanely good piece of filmmaking. It makes fun of itself while absolutely delivering golden product placement. It manages to paint men both as victims and victors, and women as powerful and confused and frustrated. And no, I’ve never owned a Barbie doll. But I could absolutely relate to a number of the themes, as could Caroline, as could my nieces.
So what’s my key takeaway? You can absolutely be your authentic self while talking to your core customer – as long as you work off a great script, lean hard into your branding and make sure you deliver your multiple messages with elegant dexterity and respect for your audience. In other words: Do the work, and commit.
Oh, and if at all possible, get a John Cena merman to do a testimonial.