Barbenheimer Blunder

August 8th 2023 By Aaron Wise 1 minute read

The new blockbuster releases of Barbie and Oppenheimer have taken the film industry by storm, with their opening weekend taking a combined £30million at the UK box office – its highest in four years.

The success of the films, which has provided a welcome boost for cinemas as they continue to struggle with streaming platforms, has sparked the phenomenon known as ‘Barbenheimer’.

Now, before I reveal the recent PR clanger of this unconventional fusion, I must point out the excellent marketing of Barbie, which had a marketing budget of £150million – £5million more than it cost to actually make the film! 

It literally couldn’t get much better for Warner Bros, with debut takings worldwide of almost £300million and the film being on track to be the biggest release this year.

No one, or company, is safe with social media, however. So, when the official Barbie account started interacting with Barbenheimer memes featuring atomic bombs, it was always going to cause a stir.

Playfully commenting on images of Margot Robbie with a mushroom cloud hairstyle and Cillian Murphy, who played Robert Oppenheimer, carrying Ms Robbie on his shoulder through a burning city, has led to the trending hashtag #NoBarbenheimer across social media.

And with Barbie scheduled for release on 11th August in Japan – five days after the 78th anniversary of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima, the posts, which include “it’s going to be a summer to be remembered”, leave a very bad taste to say the least. Naivety from the person posting from the Barbie account? One would imagine so.

The outrage has forced Warner Bros to issue an apology, with a statement posted on its Japanese Barbie account saying it was “extremely regrettable that the official account of the American headquarters for the movie 'Barbie' reacted to the social media postings of 'Barbenheimer' fans."

Furthermore, Twitter, now rebranded to X, has since added community notes to the original posts to highlight the historical context of the atomic bomb attacks on Japan, with one user saying: “Among those who died under that mushroom cloud (in Hiroshima) were many children who were at the age of playing with Barbie dolls." 

Yikes. One can only imagine the crisis comms that ensued once those posts went viral.

It may be seen as a small clanger to what has been an incredible, global PR powerhouse for Barbie, but it highlights the importance of thorough research and judgement before tapping ‘post’ on social media. 

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