How Barbie & Maybelline New York Collaborate: Lauren Pickering

This is how we do it

 

In Episode 2 of 'This is how we do it' - our podcast brought to you by Collabosaurus x Microsoft Store, we interview Lauren Pickering about her roles at Barbie & Maybelline New York. Lauren's incredible career in marketing means she has spearheaded many brand collaborations in her time in senior marketing management positions at both Barbie & Maybelline New York. We are so excited to chat to her about how collaborations with brands such as Australian Fashion Week, The Langham & Peter Alexander came about. See below for the episode & transcript!

 

 

 

Jess:
I am so excited to have Lauren Pickering here. Thank you for flying in today. So, Lauren is the Head of Marketing & Communication at Toorak College and she previously held the positions of  marketing manager at Barbie as well as  Group Brand Manager at Maybelline New York. So we have a lot to talk about! Haha in our emails back and forth, it was like - we're going to need more than half an hour, but we widdled it down to a couple of key questions today, so thank you so much Lauren for coming.

Lauren:
Thank you.

Jess:
I would like to kick off our conversation with your time at Barbie. I think the brand is very top of mind at the moment. If everyone's seen the AirBnB and Barbie Malibu Dreamhouse collab, which I absolutely love. I'd love for you to talk a little bit about your time at Barbie, your role there, and some of the collaborations that you spearheaded while you were there.

Lauren:
Okay. I've definitely been lucky enough to work with a number of incredible brands throughout my career. And of course Barbie being one of them. It's a brand with so much history. It's a brand that sparks so much conversation. Some of it good and some of it not so good. And it's a brand that as a little girl, I just adored. So being her custodian for a number of years was really a privilege.

My role was the Senior Marketing Manager and it was a really broad role and a very hands on role. And my team and I, we were doing everything from customer research and that means going and visiting homes and watching little girls play with their dolls haha we had to play kindergarten teachers ourselves.

We would also get to select which products we would launch into the Australia or New Zealand market. And then there's the fun stuff, forecasting, budgeting, sales presentations, licensing agreements, and of course all things related to advertising and communications, which is where we got to flex our creative muscles and do fun things like collaborations.

Jess:
They're so fun.

Lauren:
Collaborations definitely played a huge part in the role and the Barbie strategy really and always have. And in a large part that's how Barbie has stayed relevant for 60 years. And being culturally relevant and reflecting today's society is really what has given Barbie longevity in a toy industry where so many brands come in and out.

Look, during my time we had two key strategies for collaborations. One of those was to connect to mass fashion and that's because we wanted our Barbie fans to be able to wear the brand with pride. And those fans could be young, they could be old. We did some great collaborations with the likes of Peter Alexander, with Misshop and with Target where we launched some really adorable party dresses.

And the second strategy there was to collaborate with partners that would facilitate our customers to have an experience with the brand that was beyond just playing with the doll. So to that extent, we've partnered with The Langham and produced a range of mother and daughter high tea events, or it can be at village cinemas and brought one of the Barbie movies to the big screen.

And we worked with a company called the Entertainment Room and they brought the Barbie live musical show to Australia. And then we would do on school holidays, a series of shopping center shows and character meet and greets.

Jess:
Amazing.

Lauren:
Yeah, yeah. So many collaborations. I hope I haven't exhausted our audience.

Jess:
No, I love it. No, no, no. I think the thing there with the audience getting familiar with it all and not getting exhausted is really shifting up the collaboration type. I love how all of those examples are really different in terms of their execution. There were live activations and experiences and then there were product collaborations and limited edition pajamas with Peter Alexander. I love all that. So my next question is really talking about that collaboration type. How do you go about determining what type you really explored at Barbie?

Lauren:
Yeah. I mean many brands can do this, but Barbie in particular, it can be so flexible and collaborations types could be product types. They could be events, they could be experiences or even social messaging. The AirBnB ones going around at the moment, but there's another collaboration that Barbie's doing right now and it's with Virgin Atlantic. And they've launched a range of aviation themed dolls.

But to make it a meatier collaboration, they're also going out with a message called #seeherfly. And it's really about encouraging the next generation, the female pilots and aviation workers to embrace what is traditionally a male dominated area. And I think that's what a great collaboration to role model, what could be.


I guess there's so many options when it comes to collaboration type and as long as it's rooted in something that makes sense, you do have flexibility to shift and change. At my time, we very much focused on product collaborations and experience-based collaborations. Why? Well, Barbie, throughout her 60 years has gone through phases of popularity - and you may know of a movie called Frozen.

Frozen launched when I was at the helm of Barbie and for a little while there, Princess Elsa was the character of choice for many girls. And it meant that Barbie and we as a team had to flip our mindset from lead brand to challengeer brand and find ways to connect with our customers and for them find a reason to put Barbie in the trolley. I guess by drawing on Barbie's fashion credentials and nostalgic appeal, that is a way where Barbie could excel where Elsa potentially couldn't.

 

 

Jess:
I love that the theme of today has come up a few times about flexibility, these big, massive brands being quite flexible in their approach to collaboration. So I'd love to ask about determining this collaboration type, whether it's products or activations or whatever it is that you're exploring. At what point in the conversation does that come around? Are you identifying collaboration partners first and then discovering what you can do together or do you have an idea like "we want to do an event" and then approach brands that way?

Lauren:
It's a real mix. There's a myth that goes around that brands like Barbie have 1,001 collaboration opportunities to pick and choose from. And bringing a collaboration to life is as simple as clicking your fingers and that's absolutely not true.

Everything has to have a reason and be focusing on the customer at the end of the day and making sure that what you're doing makes sense to elevate your brand or improve the customer experience. There were a lot of pitches that we made to different brands that were rejected for a number of reasons.

Sometimes it's brand related, sometimes it's who's in charge of making those decisions related. And there's a lot of pitches that we received that we said, "oh I don't think that that feels quite right" ever or at this stage. The ones that made sense were ones that really brought something different to the table.


I'll use the Peter Alexander collaboration as example. His brand is quite cheeky and irreverent. Barbie at the time was very much questioned about her body shape and she's so serious, etc. partnering with Peter Alexandra is a great way of showing the kitsch fun vintage side of the brand. And for them being able to draw in a really great fan base, give them another reason to buy a set of pajamas.

In terms of timing, I think from memory the Peter Alexander collaboration started with a conversation and a relationship about 18 months before we launched pajamas. So it moved relatively quickly. We went to them and I think our first line of the pitch was "do you want to get in bed with Barbie and Peter and Ken". And that pretty much spoke to the heart of their brand. There was talking before about working with brands but also with people. And you've got to work with good people and people who get your vision.

Jess:
Absolutely. I think relationships are so at the heart of successful brand collabs, for sure. I think a lot of people get really stuck when it comes to who to contact and how to pitch something. And particularly when it comes to such a huge massive legacy brand like Barbie, which is absolutely one of the reasons why we launched the pitch portal at Collabosaurus which makes that really easy. Shameless plug ;) So when you were at Barbie, where did opportunities come from and who were they directed at?

Lauren:
Anywhere and everywhere. If I take The Langham for example, Fiona from the Langham rang up and we happened to be at our desk and answered the phone that day. And she said, "Oh look, I'm really wanting to create this mother and daughter high tea event and I feel like we need something for the girl to just make that experience a little bit more special. Would you mind providing 100 dolls to this event?" And we went, hang on a second, we're all about experiences to mother and daughter, gee, there's a nostalgic play there - this could be something even bigger. And we started to snowball the idea and it became a fully fledged design menu with crown cup cakes and pink fluffy marshmallows and 101 different menu items that related to The Langham and Barbie. We took our Barbie and character to the event. And so the girls got to have their selfies and meet the character. And The Langham were fantastic in being really flexible to those ideas. I think that the phone call was a month before the first event.

So when somebody has thought of a creative, relevant idea, and the stars align, it can happen. But most often it's a good 12 to 18 months in advance and you're right in that having a contact and building a relationship is that first step. ] That can often take time I think for that very reason alone Collabosaurus is an incredible platform. But once you've got the contact and starting the relationship, because you never want to go in and say "Hey nice to meet you. I've got this great idea." You've got to build a relationship slowly. It is working in that pitch or that idea eventually.

Jess:
For sure. So that Langham example, I loved that that, that was a phone call and happened to be lucky.

Lauren:
Stars aligned.

Jess:
When it comes to other reach outs, maybe via email or meeting people at events or wherever it is that you're receiving a lot of pitches from, is there anything that stands out that was really good and clever from the pitch side that really got you to go "Absolutely yes."

Lauren:
Yeah. Look, I find that things that resonate to me or any type of pitch are when there's something that sways away from the obvious in some way, shape or form. Or something that's really born out of the desire to surprise and delight customers. And those two things really stand out for me. So if I'm reading something or hearing something and I can start to visualize how it would come to life or start to build idea upon idea, then I know that we're heading in the right direction.

I definitely think that you want to share your vision in a pitch. And you want to share some of the arsenal that might be able to make it happen, but you don't want to lead them and give them a plan that's set in stone because then you don't feel like both partners have solid input. And a good collaboration is one that benefits both partners equally. So I guess when I pitch I then like to really share my vision. Not necessarily the outcome, the vision. And plant that seed of possibility that allows both partners to workshop and snowball ideas.

Jess:
I love that tip. That is awesome. Win-win always. And flexibility again is a thing that's coming up. So my next question is about marketing impact. You and I are marketing geeks together! One of the reasons I built Collabosaurus is because I saw so many opportunities to reach new customers getting missed in a collaboration. And both Barbie and Maybelline New York, are you able to speak to the actual marketing or growth impact that you saw off the back of collaborations?

Lauren:
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And I guess the great thing about collaborations is that the impact can be product or sales based. It can be a perception based. It can be immediate, it can be long-term. It really depends on the program that you develop.

At Maybelline back in the 90s and early 2000s, the brand was very much a girly girly, pastel pink brand. And it's seen a significant transformation in the last 15 or so years. And part of that was to move away from being known only for mascaras. But part of it was also to start to associate ourselves with fashion a little bit more.

And so back in, I want to say around 2010 we sponsored Australian Fashion Week. And sponsorships are great, they get your name out there. They're often a ticket to the game. But it was how we leveraged that sponsorship and collaborated with a number of different Australian designers that really had the impact.

So we worked with a range of designers to create their look books and do their makeup for the runways. And in return, I guess, we got to shoot some incredible content for our social media platforms and for YouTube. And to really showcase that we could get runway ready looks from this mass, affordable brand.

That was invaluable in terms of impact though, the collaboration and the sponsorship had so many layers. We had products that were used on the runway, saw sales spikes. We had limited edition products that were launched with our designers that sold out completely. Our social media engagement reach went nuts. And we had a lot of people uploading their own looks using our products. So that was incredible. And unexpected side benefit and impact.

And I guess harder to measure, but I guess looking back now is seeing that brands perception and transformation change from being quite very, very young. We're talking young teen, to a brand that's more appealing to women in their twenties and thirties now.

Jess:
That's awesome. Leverage is one of my favorite topics. And today is a good testament to that as well. I mean Microsoft Store and Collabosaurus, we started working together around the podcast. And it was like, okay, why don't we do an event? And then there's that content opportunity and there's so many other opportunities within one collaboration.


I love that Maybelline and Australian fashion week collaboration because it wasn't just the behind the scenes content or the makeup on the models. It was the limited edition packaging that you did with the designers and stuff like that, which was amazing. So my question, from your perspective, how did this approach really actually leverage the whole impact of the collaboration as opposed to - if you hadn't done the packaging for example, would it have had a massively different outcome?

Lauren:
I think that that particular collaboration was just a sum of the parts. And behind Maybelline and Australian fashion week, there were layers of people. We've got a sales team and they had PR teams and event teams, and they had, things that they needed to get done too. And so that collaboration had a lot of layers. Sales promotions, competitions to attend the event and sit front row, behind the scenes content, runway looks, limited edition products, media events, you name it, we had it. And I guess in some way all of those layers linked back to some sort of objective. And that was perception based and that was sales based for Maybelline.

Jess:
Yeah absolutely. And I mean with collaborations, I think the word collaboration gets used a lot. It's used across sponsorships, influencer collabs, brand to brand collabs, licensing, all that kind of stuff can be rolled up into that collaboration ball. With Collabosaurus, we really focus on brand to brand collaborations that often don't involve any monetary exchange whatsoever. It's often about leveraging what each brand has in partnership already. So my next question is what's your advice when it comes to approaching a fair deal? How do you make sure that it's fair and win win for both brands?

Lauren:
Yeah, it's a toughie. In my experience and to be completely transparent, there have been a lot of monetary exchanges. So I mentioned sponsorships before. The power is not necessarily always in a sponsorship, but they're often a ticket to the game. Licensing agreements for example Peter Alexander, there's a sales percentage kick back.

But I guess the Barbie and The Langham example was a non-monetary collaboration that I can talk to. And I think then it started with understanding, I guess what you have to offer and then knowing what you're willing to exchange for it. And that can be anything. That can be a product, that can be an event, that can be a database, that can be your reputation. There's a 101 things that you could offer in exchange.

But again, it comes back to what's going to make that collaboration benefit both parties and what's going to be in it for the customer. And often what's the value of what that thing is that you're offering or bringing to the table? What's the actual, even if you were to quantify that as much as possible and ensure that it's fair.

Jess:
My last question is do you have any tips or advice for marketers maybe considering collaboration as part of the board of strategy, but they're hesitant?

Lauren:
I've had such success. Some of the most successful campaigns I've run have been collaborations. I think my advice would be to ask a couple of questions of yourself. The first one being why do you want to do a collaboration? It can't just be because it's cool. You've got to have some sort of objective. Then I guess the second question would be with potential partners, what crossover opportunities might exist? So is there a link that make sense or is there a link that can be forged. This could be things like milestone or event based opportunities. Something like a Valentine's day or back to school.

It could be a demographic type of opportunity. So tennis players or tennis fans. Or it could even be a location based opportunity. So Pitt Street mall or Mornington peninsula. And I guess the third part, which is where the rubber starts to hit the road, is start to brainstorm some partners that you'd love to work with.

I used to have a little post-it note that I used to jot down brands that I'd love to work with one day. And I think that saying things aloud or jotting them down is that first step to making it happen. And then just go for it.

Jess:
I do that too. All right. We have some time for some questions. Thank you so much Lauren for your time and advice. It was fabulous. She has over 15 years of marketing experience marketing to females across Australia & New Zealand and we are so lucky to have her here with us today!

Lauren:
I don't look like it, do I?

Jess:
No, you don't look like it haha... Does anyone have any questions for Lauren? Don't be shy. 

 

Q&A Bonus Content will be available to CollaboHub members only (available on any paid plan on Collabosaurus!)