Devil’s Advocate – Barbenheimer: Making Opposites Attractive

Robert Joseph’s suggestion that wine marketers could learn from the effort studios put into promoting movies like Barbie attracted a lot of interest. Now he wonders if there could be lessons too in the numbers of people who chose to watch that film in a double feature with Oppenheimer.

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Robert Joseph - the Devil's Advocate
Robert Joseph - the Devil's Advocate

Segmentation, as everyone knows – or should know – is key to cost-effective marketing. You don’t market Picpoul de Pinet to the same people, in the same way, as you would, say, white Zinfandel.

Because the person who buys either one of these, is not a customer for the other. Same as, for example, instant coffee and single-origin beans.


But then there’s Barbenheimer: the phenomenon of people choosing to watch a double bill of Barbie and Oppenheimer, two movies that, on paper, have totally different target audiences. I haven’t seen any total statistics for the numbers who chose to spend over five hours in a cinema doing this, but on July 17th, before the two movies’ simultaneous release, the AMC chain in the US revealed that 40,000 people had already bought tickets for both. Something that was even more surprisingly true – if only briefly - for one in five of the customers of its rival chain, Vue.

In theory, the decision to release the two films at the same time was driven by ‘counterprogramming’, moviespeak for a strategy based on traditional segmentation. The two studios wanted to save promotional budgets by targeting totally separate sets of people, namely younger women and older men.

Shirts and memes

But, in April 2022, over a year before the movies’ premiere, the editor of Next Best Picture magazine coined the term Barbenheimer which went viral as people created t-shirts and memes combining both and, by June, celebrities and radio presenters were talking about the order in which they were going to watch them.

Now, I’m sure the film studios see this as an exception to the rule; they’re almost certainly not expecting to sell lots of double-bill tickets to romantic comedies and slasher horror-pics. On the other hand, they’re famously keen on repeating a winning formula, so don’t be surprised if a different pairing codenamed Barbenheimer 2 isn’t in at least a few movie marketers’ heads. (Anyone wanting a humorous take on movie marketers should watch this.)

Burger and wine?

Could one do the same with wine – either with two different styles, or combining wine with a different product? Several top chefs have admitted enjoying ‘fast food’ – I recall Ferran Adria of El Bulli saying complimentary things about McDonalds, for example, while Thomas Keller of the French Laundry and Gordon Ramsay both love burgers from the In-N-Out chain, so maybe it would be fun and worthwhile to promote the partnership of a burger and fries with a really serious bottle of red.

Movies and wine have one thing in common: they’re both social, and often a little like dancing. One person leads – by choosing the film or bottle - while the other follows. Which is why so many of us have ended up watching movies and drinking wines we might never have selected for ourselves.

But, unlike the waltz, in which the man has always taken full charge, wine is now far more inclusive and, especially since the advent of supermarkets, no longer a male preserve. In many households, bottles of Moscato and bourbon-barrel Zinfandel happily share wine-rack space with Morgon and Zibibbo. 

Make it funny

There may be humour to be derived from these unlikely partnerships. Which, way back in 1992, the British advertising agency, Young & Rubicam, so cleverly did with this iconic movie commercial for Foster’s lager featuring Häagen Dazs ice cream.

In an age when digital marketing is available to all and can be created by almost anyone with access to a smartphone or laptop, the only limits to what one could do along these lines are imagination and common sense. But not a fear of trying something different.

Would partnering a Burger and a Barolo have more positive impact for a producer than posting yet another image of their wine in the perfect glass, with the ideal dish? I don’t know, but it could be worth a try.

“When the world zigs… zag.”

Segmentation is an incredibly valuable tool for anyone wanting to do any kind of marketing cost-effectively, but when everyone around you is doing it, maybe you should at least occasionally deliberately attempt to do something else. As my friend, the brilliant ad man and winery-owner, Sir John Hegarty has always said “When the world zigs… zag.”

(In our household, by the way, we buy good coffee beans and good instant coffee. My daughter uses the latter to make coffee icing for cakes she has baked).



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