Ulta Is Tired of Being Jan Brady to Sephora's Marsha Marsha Marsha 

In Depth

Beauty brand Ulta is launching a national ad campaign, presumably because they are sick of hearing about Sephora. Sephora, Sephora, Sephora.

Coverage of the move from Bloomberg Businessweek jumps off with a quote from Ulta’s chief merch and marketing officer, Dave Kimball. “There are still a lot of women across the country, even in our oldest market of Chicago, who haven’t heard of Ulta,” he says, adding that, “Or, if they have, they don’t really understand what we’re all about.”

It seems pretty unlikely there are that many American women interested in cosmetics—especially outside of cities like New York—who’ve literally never heard of Ulta, which has twice as many U.S. locations as Sephora and has spent the last few years growing aggressively. You can barely open a mid-range women’s mag without an Ulta coupon falling out onto your floor. It’s just that their stores tend to be stand-alone suburban boxes with ample parking. The second half of that Kimball quote seems more important than the first. The beauty business is fiercely competitive right now, and Sephora is A Thing, while Ulta is not. Ulta wants to be A Thing, too:

The retailer is positioning itself as the fun alternative to competitors like longtime rival Sephora. Where Sephora, which is owned by French luxury conglomorate LVMH, is sleek and chic, Ulta is bubbly and bright. That means lots of vivacious colors and retro graphics. Ulta and Sephora have long coexisted by being just different enough. Ulta rules suburbia, while Sephora’s got that big-city glam and is much larger globally. Step into a bustling Sephora, and you’ll find a lively but small store that can get a bit hectic. Ulta’s locations are big and bright, with an open plan, for the shopper with time to explore the bazaar.

Hence, they’ll be buying splashy ad spots in places like Dancing With the Stars and Scandal, “promoting itself as a one-stop shop for all things beauty, selling both prestigious brand names and mass-market essentials,” according to Bloomberg Businessweek. A sample still makes the campaign look very Candyland.

They really ought to be marketing on the promise of being able to access a mirror without having to kneecap some tween experimenting with glitter eyeshadow. Now that’s worth my money.

This post originally referred to Jan Brady as Jane Brady. It has been corrected. We regret the error but also it kinda proves my point, right?

Contact the author at [email protected].

Photo via AP Images.

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