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When you are the leading brand with the largest market share of your niche, it makes sense to expand the market. But, as many brands have learned the hard way, you can't expand the market in a way that offends the original consumer as you risk losing the core consumer and in the end shrinking your market share.
Ulta's marketing department and their agency may have thought they were brilliant in aiming to expand the market by having this series of podcasts called "The Beauty Of" hosted by David Lopez, a well-established hair stylist and beauty influencer.
On paper, this is checking all the hip boxes and could be played like social media marketing bingo: Influencer? Check! Soft peachy 80s throwback colors in the podcast studio that work well with Ulta's light orange logo? Check! Podcast like all the cool kids do these days? Check! Topic of the podcast - all the products available at Ulta - Check!
Honestly, this was probably applauded in the meeting rooms as a hip generation of hip marketing kids decided to roll this out and entice new customers to come to Ulta and explore all the beauty products available. They forgot the golden rule of advertising: you are not your target market. The market is a fickle mistress and you really need to listen to consumers before crafting campaigns. So while I'm sure everyone at Ulta was happy signing off on this, the reception when this podcast was tweeted out to the world was decidedly not what they expected.
Punctuated with the hand clapping emoji (cringe), Ulta tweeted this announcement out:
Trans 👏 Girls 👏 Can 👏 Do 👏It 👏 All! Tune into the latest episode of The Beauty Of... where host @DavidLopezzz sits down with guest Dylan Mulvaney to chat all things girlhood 💝 Watch now: https://t.co/tCRfEryYkZ pic.twitter.com/uaXJqEBQI9
— Ulta Beauty (@ultabeauty) October 13, 2022
an archive of this tweet is available here.
The backlash however was immediate.
You see, Dylan Mulvany, the TikTok influencer that appeared out of nowhere and was immediately cheered on Good Morning America, being interviewed in Elle, and selected to speak on a panel at Forbes Power Women's Summit has already attracted as many non-fans as fans. Possibly more non-fans, actually. Dylan Mulvany's "Day _ as a girl" TikTok video series shows Dylan running away from spiders while hiking in heels, dancing in the rain in skimpy outfits, and in general acting like an exaggerated parody of a sex stereotype that women and girls do not recognize as reality. All while proclaiming that this is "girlhood" - but Dylan is 25 years old.
When Dylan shared the fantastical story of a girl in the stall next to Dylan asking for a tampon and then suggested that Tampax was talking about sponsoring the "days of girl" channel, women complained and boycotted Tampax. As well as calling out Dylan's misogynistic term for a woman's vagina: the "Barbie pouch" in responding Tiktoks.
In the "The Beauty Of" interview Dylan also expresses their hopes for the future, revealing "I want to be a mom someday." In an era when actual pregnant women are called birthing people and birthing parent that line from Dylan really poured salt in a wound that advertising and marketing have done their best to infect further.
The replies to the tweet above shot down the concept immediately, and Ulta's social media manager probably got carpel tunnel syndrome as they were very busy hiding replies. "It's like blackface but more whiny" said one, "Those are two adults. It's very creepy to hear them talking about girlhood when neither has never experienced it." said another.
Women & girls: We deserve better than this contemptful mockery.
Women spend on average $250k on cosmetics over a lifetime.
Median retirement savings for women is $23k.
How much is dylan earning from mocking us? Invest in your future, not some misogynist dude's grift.
— ♀️🇺🇦✨Juniper the Feminist ✨🇺🇦♀️ (@JunipersBird) October 15, 2022
Man without beard talks to man with beard about how they can both pretend to be offensive caricatures of womanhood and there's nothing anyone can do about it.
— Marvin Smith (@MarvinSmith2000) October 15, 2022
At Ulta Beauty, we believe that beauty is for everyone—and we kindly request that everyone be treated with respect on our channels.
— Ulta Beauty (@ultabeauty) October 15, 2022
Respect the fact that "girlhood" isn't for creepy men to discuss.
— Fonty (@Fontybits1) October 15, 2022
It didn't take long before Ulta's social media manager got tired of creating individual replies stating "At Ulta Beauty, we believe that beauty is for everyone" and "We believe that beauty has no boundaries, and we want to create an environment where all expressions of beauty are welcome." so they decided to tweet out a statement:
The premise of ‘The Beauty Of…’ is to feature conversations that widen the lens surrounding traditional beauty standards. We believe beauty is for everyone. And while we recognize some conversations we host will challenge perspectives and opinions, we believe constructive (1/2)
— Ulta Beauty (@ultabeauty) October 16, 2022
dialogue is one important way to move beauty forward. The intersectionality of gender identity is nuanced, something David and Dylan acknowledge themselves within the episode. Regardless of how someone identifies, they deserve our respect. (2/2)
— Ulta Beauty (@ultabeauty) October 16, 2022
This is archived here.
But that attempt to calm the storm was just adding fuel to the fire, and soon "#BoycottUlta" trended on Twitter. "Are you saying men cannot be beautiful? That anyone who wants to feel beautiful must ‘be a woman’? Sack your entire marketing department instantly, because they are incompetent, as well as regressive." said a reply that shared an image of a nobleman in the 1700s, wearing a wig and heels.
Prominent forums on the internet took note of the backlash as well, Lipstickalley noted "Ulta gets dragged" and spied on the "barbie pouch saga". As they say, Twitter isn't real life, it's also not even the largest representation of the internet.
You should have a look at the state of your likes on your post mocking women’s lives. You’ve got the support of adult males posting cartoons of little girls with the words ‘submissive’ and ‘easily influenced’ blazed over the top. Is that your customer base? #BoycottUlta pic.twitter.com/1YTnDcWLw5
— emi (@brocflower) October 16, 2022
You had a bloke stating he’s a woman and wants to be a mother .We are told we are “birthing people” and he wants to be a mum?? See what’s happening here? Two men talking womens issues is insulting. It’s not hate to point that out. Two men talking mens beauty products = no problem
— Karrie (@KarrieboKarrie) October 17, 2022
You had two grown men tell actual women what it’s like to be a girl, as if they could have any earthly idea. That has nothing to do with beauty; it’s lunacy, and it’s insulting
— Allie Beth Stuckey (@conservmillen) October 17, 2022
Men have oppressed women and girls for 6,000+ years in the longest running global oppression in human history. And you think that these men now have the right to claim to be girls and speak on girlhood all because they wear makeup and dresses??
— 🥚 🦖_rady_aphrodite🌿🕯🔮 (@rady_aphrodite) October 16, 2022
Beauty is for everyone. Males are welcome to wear makeup. None of us are objecting to that. We're objecting to your platforming the notion that an adult male is a girl.
— SwallowThePill KPSS 🟥 (@pill_swallow) October 16, 2022
Women don't object to male beauty! The issue is Dylan Mulvaney does not represent GIRLHOOD.
If your goal was to "widen the lens" you could choose men like Billy Idol or Luka Sabbat (below).
You chose Mulvaney, who reduces womanhood to a grotesque caricature in the name of humor. pic.twitter.com/ufjB2sHvY8
— Hoodie Rob Manfred (@SwissDog3) October 16, 2022
So what happened here? How could Ulta's marketing department and ad agency misjudge the current zeitgeist so badly? I think it's rather simple. Advertising, PR and marketing agencies are getting high on their own supply these days, and don't see that there are scores of consumers out there who do not subscribe to the idea that makeup means that you're instantly a woman. Those who grew up with posters of Adam Ant, Boy George, Annie Lennox and David Bowie on the walls don't even blink at gender bending clothing as that's been a pop culture staple since Marlene Dietrich wore her suits.
Somewhere along the way, the industry went out of its way to latch onto influencers in an effort to be hip, firing the old-school crew who could create ideas without influencers, and replaced them with a generation of myopic navel-gazers who fail to understand that they are not the target market. The result is an unfortunate campaign that serves to turn the core consumer off.
Or to sum it up with a comment posted at Lipstickalley: "I'm so sick of companies for women supporting this charade."