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Why your employer brand should be more “Barbenheimer”

3 min read.



Employer Branding

Adding light and shade to display all the colours of your organisation's culture can make for really impactful employer brand marketing. Take a cue from Ken and Oppy...

With the Hollywood awards season in full flow, we recollect how the media recently became obsessed by the unlikeliest of big-name film pairings – one an iconic US doll brand and the other the “modern Prometheus” and father of the atomic bomb.

Come on, it wasn’t that long ago.

It is Barbie and Oppenheimer, of which we speak, of course. Or, to give it its full excruciating, entirely manufactured, portmanteau – Barbenheimer.

The coincidental release date of the two films was smartly seized upon as an opportunity to juxtapose the candy-floss coloured Barbie movie and its ironic/not ironic messages of female empowerment, against Christopher Nolan’s somewhat more sombre eponymous biopic of a serial philanderer who was a teensy bit concerned about his scientific workings out destroying the planet’s atmosphere.

The extreme tonal contrast was too good to ignore. Memes and watch parties sprang up, endlessly captivating Twitter and TikTok. Brands jumped in, sponsoring “Barbenheimer” viewing days. Even the lead actors bought into it, playing up the contrastingly odd dynamic. One slightly more forced than the others.

So why did this fleeting pop culture phenomenon become the marketing story of the summer? And how on Earth are we going to go further with the juxtaposing to explain how it is relevant to employer brand leaders? Well…

Embrace your differences

Barbie and Oppenheimer don’t belong together. Obviously. But it’s that stark contrast that captured people’s attention. Employer brands can spotlight similarly distinctive tension points to great effectiveness.

For example, balancing the serious matter of recruiting the right talent to drive a business forward, with moments of workplace fun. Or contrasting an organisation’s long, storied heritage with cutting-edge innovation. Showcasing the specific difference within a culture makes an employer brand pop.

It comes down to identifying and proudly proclaiming your singular brand of “difficult.” Don’t shy away from tough topics or gloss over tensions. Play up the contrasts that set you apart from competitors.

“Barbenheimer” took off thanks to organic engagement within fan communities. They created memes poking fun at the dichotomy, shared silly crossover art, and planned dual viewings of the two films.

Employer brands should foster similar vibrant internal communities to share stories highlighting cultural contradictions. Whether it be via internal groups, networking events or social channels, create avenues for showcasing your Barbie and Oppenheimer moments.

Such authentic vignettes  bring an employer brand to life while generating organic candidate buzz.

Tales of the unexpected

The mash-up succeeded largely because it was so unexpected. The surprise factor instantly ignited public curiosity.

Don’t be afraid to raise eyebrows with your own employer branding. Run an unconventional campaign, form an unlikely partnership, or add a modern twist to a dusty EVP. As long as it is aligned to your employer brand strategy it will add surprise and delight to your messaging.

Give your audience something unpredictable that forces them to take a fresh look at who you are and what you offer as an employer destination.

Brands maximised the craze by sponsoring “Barbenheimer” viewing parties, catering to diverse audience interests at once – the serious and the….not so serious.

Employer brands should craft similar dual engagement opportunities that allow participants to connect on multiple levels.

Host events that combine career-development sessions with relaxed social networking. Blend skill-building webinars with cultural celebrations.

Programming around both professional growth and personal fulfilment brings twice the engagement.

Diversify your storytelling

The success of the mash-up lies in the diversity of the narrative. Barbie and Oppenheimer stories resonate with very different audiences.

Yet their promotion in tandem magnified reach across multiple demographics. The combination served more people than either individual component.

It serves as a reminder to employer brands to incorporate multidimensional storytelling that provides something for everyone.

Share stories highlighting social responsibility and workplace levity for instance. Innovation and heritage; visionary aspirations and a down-to-earth community. Show all aspects of your organisation’s culture.

Diverse messaging broadens the appeal to wider talent pools hungry for a culture they can see themselves belonging to.

The Takeaway

So, what can employer brands learn from the barriers broken by Barbie meets Oppenheimer?

  • Lean into differences instead of smoothing them over.
  • Engage communities to share two-sided stories.
  • Entertain and surprise with unexpected juxtapositions.
  • Meet diverse interests in one experience.

Most importantly, don’t shy away from showcasing a complex identity. It’s those unique tension points that captivate and inspire conversation.

If the Barbenheimer mash-up can capture attention, so too can your blend of serious and fun, difficult and delightful. It’s not just about filling roles; it's about forging community and making your people part of the story.

So, show the light and shade in your organisation and highlight the contrasts.

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