Barbie Tours Walmart with Role Models

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Barbie Tours Walmart with Role Models

By Patrycja Malinowska - 06/01/2019
A local role model: country music star Kelsea Ballerini

Mattel’s Barbie is staging major retailtainment events in Walmart’s parking lots as one account-specific piece of a global marketing campaign celebrating the brand’s anniversary and incorporating its purpose of inspiring the limitless potential in all girls.

The Barbie “Be Anything” tour launched on Barbie’s actual birthday, March 9, with a key kickoff event in Walmart’s hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas, and will hit more than 30 total markets across the country as it continues through October.

Each event includes a number of different activations spanning arts and crafts, photo opportunities inside a life-sized Barbie doll box, a museum-style exhibit showcasing some of Barbie’s most iconic career dolls, a dress-up area, the chance for parents to enter their kids into a sweepstakes awarding cash, as well as the latest dolls and playsets available for play.

“We set out to create a really fresh, unique and interactive experience that we could actually bring to Walmart stores across the country,” says Mattel’s Christina Cullimore, Walmart account lead – customer marketing manager. “One other unique activation that we have is a virtual ‘You Can Be Anything’ career wall where girls are able to enter in their name, age and dream career, and that information is captured on this virtual motion-activated wall. It’s a really cool interactive experience and something unique that we haven’t really seen [before].”

For the past few years, Barbie has increasingly built its marketing efforts around its original brand purpose: focusing on what the doll enables rather than what she looks like, Cullimore says. This year, that includes tour appearances by real-life, local role models sharing their inspiring stories, including country music star Kelsea Ballerini, Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin, teenage founder and chief executive officer of Me & the Bees Lemonade Mikaila Ulmer, contemporary jazz artist Robin Barnes, and the youngest female figure skaters to win a national title, Tara Lipinski and Alysa Liu.

“At each market, we’ve selected a role model that has broken a boundary within a particular career and also has a tie to that specific market,” Cullimore says. While the role models are all female, the tour engages the entire family.

“We try not to pigeonhole ourselves into this being a ‘girl activation’ because really the entire family is getting involved. … It really is something that’s touching more people than we even expected,” Cullimore says. Attendance at the events has numbered in the thousands and sales are up across the entire market, with triple-digit growth at the event stores.

Online support includes a promotional showcase on and social media activity across the retailer’s local and corporate channels. The brand also earns prime secondary merchandising space at more than 3,000 stores with cross-category, eight-foot pallet trains as well as trend pods – front-facing short endcaps with two side-facing merchandising areas specific to the retailer’s toy department. Each market additionally benefits from localized PR outreach.

A number of different elements helped Barbie sell Walmart on the program, including the brand’s relationships with the retailer’s buyers and vice president of toy sales Anne Marie Kehoe, who challenged the brand to do something big for its anniversary. It also helped that Mattel ran a successful “Legends Tour” to celebrate Hot Wheels’ 50th anniversary at the chain the year prior.

“That we could actually bring something to life as big as the Legends Tour within a parking lot was far beyond what Walmart had ever imagined so I think that definitely set a foundation for us,” Cullimore says. “… Shoppers are yearning for these experiential events and it’s been a key strategy for Walmart to basically create unique activations within their stores.”

Walmart brought back the Legends Tour for a second run this year, and Barbie will likewise be returning for its own follow-up next year.

“They are asking for more, given the success of the event,” Cullimore says. “We’re in our early stages of planning for 2020 so we’ll see what comes out of it but I think that this has elevated what Walmart sees as a retailtainment experience.”

Agency partners include Walmart retailtainment partners Advantage Solutions and Eventus; Toronto-based T1 Agency for managing the role models; Bentonville-based Mojo Marketing to build the tour stop assets; Mitchell Communications Group for local media outreach; and Bay Cities Packaging and Design for the corrugate displays.

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