How Barbie Used AI to go Viral
[AI Tools, Virality, Fans and Distribution]
Sharing an essay I wrote for my Evolving Internet Insights Newsletter on how Barbie used AI to go viral. This essay has chock full of insights and can be applied to any project where attention and distribution on the Internet is critical.
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Note: Some sections of this essay were originally released on my Evolving Internet Insights newsletter.
_Barbie’s Blockbuster Summer
Barbie has had a blockbuster summer so far. 🎬 Here are some stats:
Barbie has grossed ~$1.2B and became the 2nd highest grossing film in 2023, behind only The Super Mario Bros. Movie. The latter was released a quarter earlier than Barbie.
Barbie joins the elite club of films that have grossed more than $1B. Only ~50 films have achieved this feat. It’s on pace to be the highest grossing film in 2023.
A survey found that almost a quarter of Barbie moviegoers hadn’t been to a movie theater since the Pandemic started.
Part of its success has been attributed to creatively using AI tools to engage its fans to drive virality. In the age of AI and the Internet where there is too much content, for a film to do well it must capture our attention.
Attention is the scarcest thing in today’s world.
Barbie has an integrated marketing campaign, where its goal was to have Barbie be everywhere. Mattel, the toy company that makes Barbie, made over 100 partnerships and activations for the Barbie movie. There was even an Airbnb house that was turned into a real life Barbie mansion.
The goal was to make Barbie top of mind for as many consumers as possible.
All of these campaigns supported the movie's success, but what helped it stand apart was its use of Gen AI to go viral. The traditional campaigns helped create the summer of Barbie zeitgeist, but going viral on the Internet sustained it. When something becomes viral or “breaks the Internet,” the network effects of the Internet and social media spread across a global hivemind faster than lightning. ⚡
_Using Gen AI to Viral Online
At the onset of the Gen AI boom, many pointed out that these tools would disrupt marketing. The early use cases were mainly people using tools like ChatGPT to write marketing copy. We are now seeing more creative ways in how companies are using Gen AI tools to benefit their businesses.
Barbie created a simple selfie AI tool to help Barbie go viral. The selfie remixing tool allowed fans to convert their photos into Barbie posters. For fans, they felt like they could participate more directly in Barbie culture by using an AI tool. For Barbie, it could use the high volume of UGC (user generated content) to capture mindshare.
This led to a virtuous flywheel.
Fans posted their movie posters on social media, which generated attention and hype, which then enticed other fans to use the AI tool to remix on social media, which then generated more attention and hype, and the virality snowballed from there. A Fast Company article went on to say:
“by mid-spring , content from the AI-infused tool was going viral and producing 67% positive online conversations while seeing a 23,350% increase in mentions during one week in April. Since then, the #barbiemovie hashtag has garnered more than 325,000 posts on Instagram alone.”
To further build virality, Barbie also combined this tactic with other AI powered apps like an AI powered quiz.
_So What: Generalizable Lessons
In the age of AI, garnering attention is increasingly becoming harder because of the flood of content.
One of the best ways to generate attention is to involve fans in the process of generating that attention. Barbie fans were able to use a "novel tool" to become engaged consumers, spreading attention and growing the overall community.
While Barbie is a mainstream example, Jack Butcher’s Opepen NFT project did something similar in Web3. (See my Opepen essay here). The project promoted remixing and creating amongst its community. The community took the original Opepen framework and remix the image, shared it on social media and created this virtuous flywheel that garnered attention for the project as a well.
As social media has shown, we prefer to share something when it’s directly related to us – so a selfie remixed onto a Barbie visual or an Opepen image created by a community member using an AI tool encourages fans to share it.
AI enables fans to easily create high quality user generated content that traditionally had more friction and required more activation energy from the fan (i.e. not everyone knew how to make high quality images). With AI, fans can click a few buttons but still feel like they are participating in something bigger than themselves, generating what companies love – low friction virality.
In the Age of AI, creating mechanisms to encourage your fans and community to participate will be critical.
For companies of all shapes and sizes, the job of a fan (read: customer or consumer) isn’t necessarily to create something high quality.
The job of a fan is distribution.
Distribution is Queen. 👑
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This post is provided for educational and informational purposes only. Nothing written in this post should be taken as financial advice or advice of any kind. The author(s) may own some of the NFTs, art and/or collectibles mentioned in this post. The content of this post are the opinions of the authors and not representative of other parties.
Empower yourself, DYOR (do your own research).