Barbie, Blackberry, and B2B marketing: What to learn from this year’s “brand movies”

September 5, 2023

You know what product placement is: it’s simply the appearance of a recognizable brand signifier in media, usually (but not always) paid for. We’ve become so used to it that it’s been parodied and called out in popular culture for being too obvious. No one wants to see their favorite entertainment interrupted by an ad— and placement that’s too aggressive might hurt rather than help.

Though it’s hardly new, 2023 has brought a wave of high-profile “brand movies” about everything from Tetris to Cheetos to a little film you may have heard about called Barbie. Whether they’re gritty docudramas or satirical comedies, the one thing they all have in common is brand recognition. As the Washington Post pointed out, these movies are about the various brands they represent and contain some sort of thesis statement regarding them.

Even if your company is B2B-focused, it’s worth taking notice of this trend. Not only is B2B marketing becoming more like B2C, brands like SpaceX and Volvo Trucks have created content that would normally be the province of consumer-facing companies.

The Basics
Firstly, B2B marketing is increasingly looking a lot like B2C, incorporating some of the same tools and channels. In addition, B2B brands tend to utilize placements in more focused content areas. This allows them to maximize their audience while still gaining the exposure B2C gets from this tactic.

A lot of this can come from positive associations between the brand and a certain media production. For example, consider how Teledyne Flir connects its thermal cameras to their use on the show BattleBots: they not only provide footage for the show but greater safety as well. Similarly, space technology company Maxar has highlighted its collaboration with the Science Channel for their show What on Earth?, which makes them look like part of an exciting project rather than merely self-promoting. These partnerships avoid the traps of traditional paid placement and instead focus on these companies’ capabilities.

Elements of successful B2B placement
So, what will make for effective B2B marketing going forward? It’s likely things will change rapidly, so it’s always good to keep an eye on the latest shifts. Here is how some of the elements of the “IP movie” can work in a B2B space.

  • Compelling narratives: How do you build on what people know about you in a surprising yet fitting way? Barbie has gained critical acclaim for figuring that out. A B2B example would be the viral Volvo Trucks ad featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme. The company behind it combined their trucks’ steering capabilities and the action star’s famous splits for a memorable image. It also draws a parallel between the trucks and resonant themes of endurance and pursuing greatness over time.
  • Intimacy: Tetris, Flamin’ Hot, Air and other movies are framed as looks inside specific companies and the creation of iconic products. There’s a sense that the audience is learning the “true story.” In its “What Matters” ad, GE shows self-awareness and waves away its industry accomplishments by focusing on what individual people care about.
  • Conversation, not promotion: A final important thing these movies do is center the brand as part of a conversation, rather than spend their entire time making it look good. One way is to put the brand in context, reflecting on its history and significance in the industry.

Any company can learn from these recent successes and harness the key elements of successful “brand movies.” It’s all about understanding your brand and directing the conversation.

Reframing your brand’s identity can greatly improve engagement.
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