ULTA Beauty’s CMO on Driving the Message of Equality

Jamie Grill-Goodman
Editor in Chief
Jamie goodman

If any silver lining came out of 2020, it’s that consumers are demanding that retailers take a stance on key social issues — especially equality. To this end, companies are revisiting their purpose and working overtime to figure out how to communicate it effectively.

Shelley Haus, CMO, ULTA Beauty; Crystal Harrell, senior director, communications, Procter & Gamble; and Shelley Zalis, CEO, The Female Quotient, met to draw insights from this year's most creative retail campaigns that drove home the message of equality and inspired people to act.

During “2020's most creative retail campaigns for equality,” which took place in the Equality Lounge at NRF 2021, Haus kicked off the discussion by commending the earned media campaign of Fearless Girl.

Since the arrival of Fearless Girl on Wall Street three years ago, 681 publicly-traded companies with previously no women on their boards have added at least one female board member.

State Street Global Advisors launched the Fearless Girl campaign on the eve of International Women’s Day 2017 with a bronze sculpture by Kristen Visbal. Currently located across from the New York Stock Exchange Building in the Financial District in New York City, the company has said that since the arrival of Fearless Girl on Wall Street three years ago, 681 publicly-traded companies with previously no women on their boards have added at least one female board member.

Fearless Girl was a statement that created conversation and buzz. I know so many people have taken photos, including me, with Fearless Girl and have posted it as their own statement of equality and conversation,” said Haus. “I think it was an amazing out-of-the-box campaign that sets the bar for all of us to think about how we spark conversation in this space.”

Additionally, Haus pointed out within 24 hours of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing they crafted a collar and placed it on Fearless Girl to honor her and spark conversation. 

She also pointed to Google’s Year in Search, a retrospective of 2020 done around how “why” was the most searched word this year.

“It’s one of the most brilliant pieces of advertising I’ve seen,” said Haus.

Harrell talked about P&G’s Always’ #LikeaGirl campaign, which has gone from a simple phrase to a powerful and empowering movement, and Gillette’s “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be,” which got feedback that ranged from people who loved it to criticism.

“Whenever we enter into any of our campaigns our main goal is to drive empathy,” said Harrell. She noted they should be both a force for good and a force for growth.

Harrell also used Ben & Jerry’s as an example of a company tackling equality head-on, citing the brand’s Justice ReMix'd, a flavor and campaign designed to inspire radical change.

“They are so authentic,” said Harrell, “in terms of the way they are able to organically bring it into and match their brand equity.”

The way the ice cream brand brings the conversation in through their flavors seems seamless, but is also authentic. They usually have a strong call to action and additional information to drive the conversation.

Haus continued the discussion, talking about how Ulta launched the “Where Dreams Begin” campaign, which continues to reinforce Ulta Beauty’s brand purpose.

‘We’re excited about the reception we’ve gotten from not only shoppers but our associates,” she said and then followed noting, “we’re always looking for ways to not only tell our story, but also live our story.”

Haus said “there are moments in our history that have been great accelerators, and I think 2020 has been one of those moments.”

“For us at Ulta Beauty, it really has been a time to put more structure around where we’re going and have even more intent and resolve about the areas that we want to make an impact,” she continued. “This year we’ve gotten more transparent, we gotten more vocal with our point of view, and we’ve moved faster with things like elevating black-owned brands.”

She advised that, as we head into 2021, this year we met the moment, but now what is the movement we are creating. So many amazing leaders have said if we find ourselves in the same position in a year after we’ve met the moment, then we’ve failed.

Harrell advised to make sure, in terms of who you’re trying to reach, you have accurate portrayal and representation of the consumers we all serve. For one it helps to increase the diversity we see in advertising, that we meet the needs of consumers, and it gives us the opportunity to address inequality that can be driven by bias, and drive empathy and understanding.

“It has to be a sustained commitment,” she said. “You will receive someone who’s not going to be happy about it, call it criticism.”

She also noted the creative and media supply chain is one place to drive diversity – the agencies we work with, the content creators, the media outlet, where we place the content – it all matters to create diversity.

Haus ended by noting retailers need to be crystal clear about what your brand stands for and articulate it in a way associates can repeat back.


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