24 August 2023 |

An Atomic Campaign

By Daniel Murray

Barbie this, Barbie that. Pink houses, pink Xbox’s, pink shoes, pink everything. Barbie has been putting on a Marketing clinic the last 3 months prior to the release of their movie. 

They have been getting tons of attention (and rightfully so) from the press, consumers, and Marketers alike. But next to all the flashy collaborations and in your face campaign stood a stoic, quiet, yet impactful campaign that many are not talking about. 

Let’s get into today’s lesson, 5,4,3,2,1…

The first atomic bomb was dropped on August 6th, 1945 and proved to be a pivotal act for the entire world. A true story, an important story, but that alone won’t put butts in seats. 

The saying “build it and they will come” couldn’t be any more false in the Marketing world. No matter how good the product is, or how impactful the basis of the story is, nothing will ever sell itself.
In comparison to Barbie’s Marketing team, it seems that the Marketing team behind Oppenheimer has been radio silent, but that couldn’t be more wrong. Great Marketing doesn’t feel like Marketing.  

Christopher Nolan constructed a star-studded cast featuring the likes of Robert Downey Jr, Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, and Matt Damon. Each actor is a master in the field of cinema and Oppenheimer’s Marketing team leveraged this to the fullest. 

The subtle, cost-effective efforts that ensued were ingenious. The campaign didn’t rely on flashy Times Square billboards (which they did use) but more on the collective efforts of their cast in interviews.
During any given interview with a cast member you would undoubtedly catch them throwing praise at their wonderful coworkers. From Robert Downey Jr saying he’s “never witnessed a greater sacrifice by a lead actor in [his] career” when talking about Cillian Murphy to Cillian Murphy emphatically stating Robert Downey Jr is “the most available, engaged, present, unpredictably brilliant actor [he’s] ever worked with.” 

These are industry experts expressing their trusted opinion about the performances in the film. Why is this so effective? I mean, whose opinion about a Marketing campaign would you trust more, a Marketer or an Accountant? A Marketer obviously. In that situation the Marketer has the authority in the subject matter. 

In this situation the actors have the authority in the subject matter, their opinions, and statements carry more weight in the audience’s eyes.  This gushy media tour built suspense and captivated audiences, but there’s another important lesson amongst all this.
While this was happening, Barbie was hogging headlines with their Marketing budget which alone was 1.5x the size of the entire budget for Oppenheimer. And Oppenheimer’s Marketing team didn’t waver. They didn’t try to be anything they weren’t. They knew they couldn’t compete with Barbie in their realm of high budget efforts and social media virality. 

Instead they doubled down on who they were. Oppenheimer is a rated R movie, targeted at an older demographic than Barbie. They invested heavily in TV ads and traditional media, where this older demographic hangs out. Hence the heavy focus on interviews. 

Don’t just invest in all channels because that’s what everyone else is doing, find where your audience is hanging out and put as much effort into establishing yourself where they are. This is what Oppenheimer did.

So clearly positioning themselves as a different product from Barbie, there was no box office competition. This rising tide lifted all boats. But the campaign didn’t stop there, Oppenheimer reminded us all of the power of storytelling.  

To craft a compelling story you need one overarching theme that you want your audience to take away, multiple themes will dilute the impact of your storytelling.
The atomic bomb itself is important in this film, but that’s not what Christopher Nolan wants you to take away. A countdown was the most vital part of their Marketing efforts. This countdown could be seen live on Universal Studios YouTube and on any posters inside movie theaters. 

This countdown represented a whole lot more than just the atomic bomb. This countdown represented the act of changing the world forever. This countdown became synonymous with the button that Oppenheimer hit. It wasn’t the bomb itself that changed the world forever, but the act of pressing the button to drop the bomb, the countdown to drop the bomb changed the world forever.
As the clock neared zero our anticipation rose, audiences were hooked. Now that’s the power of storytelling in Marketing. The proof is in the pudding, Oppenheimer earned the highest opening weekend ever for a biopic and beat John Wick for the biggest opening weekend for an R-rate movie in 2023, grossing $180M in the first weekend.