Ulta Beauty chased Millennial money 'too much,' says SVP brand marketing

McCann New York President Devika Bulchandani (L) and Ulta Beauty SVP Brand Marketing Shelley Haus (R)
McCann New York President Devika Bulchandani (L) and Ulta Beauty SVP Brand Marketing Shelley Haus (R)

The brand is attempting to change the narrative of how consumers view beauty.

Ulta Beauty chased after Millennial money too much, its senior vice president of brand marketing said.

Shelley Haus was speaking about her mission to change the beauty narrative at McCann’s "Truth About Aging" event in New York City on Tuesday.

"[Millennials are] spending more in beauty than any other generation has before them," she told a crowd at The Paley Center for Media while discussing ageism with McCann New York president Devika Bulchandani. "We were probably chasing that too much and we had to pivot to become relevant to a new generation of beauty lovers."

Ulta, which chose McCann New York to handle creative and MullenLowe's Mediahub for media duties late last year, is working with McCann for a new campaign that focuses on beauty unbound from age. Part of the drive means featuring older generations.

"I remind the team when we’re doing casting, where is that spectrum of diversity?" she continued. "We are really focused on making sure that’s central to the heart of where we are because, arguably, there’s no industry that is more intertwined with aging than beauty, and arguably there’s no other industry that impacts the perception of age and beauty more than we do. We take it really serious."

An important catalyst for change involves transforming the language around beauty products -- currently littered with words that hark back to younger days like "revitalize," "regenerating," "anti-aging."

A series of focus groups held by Ulta last summer gave birth to a new category of beauty branding: self-care.

"In almost every single focus group, the words ‘self-care’ came up when they were talking about what beauty is. It was really interesting, because I don’t use those words. To hear it so universally spoken about led to a mindset shift for us.

"I feel like we probably haven’t kept up with what people actually think about aging and I think we have a big responsibility to change that narrative and also celebrate aging in a different way that’s cool and approachable."

Haus vows that the next major campaign you see from Ulta won’t be about anti-aging. "It’s much more than just how you look," she added.

The discussion came as McCann’s "Truth About Age" study (one of the agency’s largest to date with 24,000 respondents) revealed that ageism exists at every age, presenting itself as a new frontier of inclusivity to be addressed by marketers.

Research found that people who fear death the most are in their 20s, while those who think about aging most are in their 30s. Ironically, the people who worry the least about aging are in their 70s.

McCann suggests brands and agencies can capitalize its findings by: starting young and opening a dialogue about aging with people under 40 -- who worry about it the most; celebrating the gains and flipping the narrative from what has been lost to what has been (and has yet to be) won; throwing age out of the window because it really is just a number -- marketers should be focused on behaviors and attitudes; building intergenerational connections.

Nadia Tuma-Weldon, senior vice president and director at McCann Worldgroup Truth Central, and an author of the study, said: "We are at a time in which, perhaps for the first time in history, an individual’s age is a much less reliable indicator of just about everything from style to health to success to attitudes and beliefs.

"However, as marketers, we tend to rely on this demographic as the most defining aspect of our customers’ identity. We believe now is the time to rethink the playbook in the way brands approach age across the spectrum. We like to say that it’s critical to ‘go beyond the number’ to ensure we are connecting on shared values and passions, regardless of age."

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