Ulta courts customers and controversy with its ‘The Beauty Of…’ podcast

Source: Ulta Beauty podcast – “The Beauty Of... Girlhood with Dylan Mulvaney”
Oct 28, 2022

Ulta Beauty faced boycott threats last week after featuring a star trans influencer in a video.

An episode of “The Beauty Of…” podcast featured Dylan Mulvaney, a TikTok star with over 15 million followers, being interviewed by David Lopez, a gender-fluid hairdresser, about “the good, the bad and the silly moments that come with finding girlhood.”

Some listeners found the conversation “misogynistic” and charged Ms. Mulvaney was “appropriating” womanhood, joking about buying tampons, calling female genitals a “Barbie pouch,” and voicing motherhood dreams. #BoycottUlta trended on Twitter.

In response, Ulta wrote on social media, “We believe beauty is for everyone. And while we recognize some conversations we host will challenge perspectives and opinions, we believe constructive dialogue is one important way to move beauty forward.”

Ulta also directly responded to criticism on social media while turning off comments on the YouTube video of the podcast. Many viewers had supported the influencer and Ulta.

Transgender individuals have appeared on fashion runways and in campaigns in recent years with generally little fanfare, but some have ignited major backlashes, including a Calvin Klein ad that ran this past Mother’s Day featuring a pregnant transgender man. An Adidas campaign featuring a star trans volleyball player caused an uproar as some believe trans women have an unfair advantage in athletics against non-transgender women.

Writing for Advertising Age, Jack Neff said Ulta’s outreach taps the Gen-Z generation that is leading the charge for both inclusivity and gender identity while also helping Ulta reach transitioning women. He writes, “There’s a social justice component, but such moves also allow Ulta to tap into a wider customer base.”

Sephora has also featured trans women in campaigns and hosts beauty classes for trans people.

Trans-rights have become a polarizing political issue in recent years. A recent Pew Center survey finds 64 percent of Americans back laws or policies that protect transgender people from discrimination, but 60 percent say a person’s gender is determined by sex assigned at birth, up from 56 percent in 2021. Of the respondents, 38 percent say society has gone too far in accepting transgender individuals and 36 percent, not far enough.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How will Ulta’s and Sephora’s support of the trans community affect their businesses? How do you think cosmetics brands should navigate the opportunity to market to transgender people?

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"Keep it up, Ulta. Our differences should be celebrated."
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8 Comments on "Ulta courts customers and controversy with its ‘The Beauty Of…’ podcast"

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Gary Sankary

Kudos to Sephora and Ulta for being open-minded and supportive of the communities they serve. They’ll get some hateful reactions from the Tucker Carlson crowd. The impact on the overall business? I expect it will be negligible. It’s a tiny cadre of customers who will be the most vocal and will attract the most attention. For the vast majority of the customers, this will be noise they will ignore.

Mark Self

It will increase their business with the trans community for sure, and as long as the approach is tasteful (I know, I know — that is subjective based on the individual) it will not hurt them with non-trans customers. If brands are authentic in their approach to transgender people in a way that does not alienate other customers they will win. Said differently: tread carefully, thoughtfully and authentically.

Cathy Hotka

It’s smart for Ulta and Sephora to appeal to every single customer. It’s in their interest to make beauty universal, because the quest for beauty sells cosmetics.

Dave Bruno

Ulta and Sephora know very well who they are targeting with their marketing investments, and young shoppers are obviously extremely high on their priority list. As Tom points out in his article, Gen Z shoppers care strongly about diversity and inclusion. I suspect the majority of people most “outraged” by these topics and guests are likely not Gen Z shoppers. In contrast, most younger shoppers tend to look past the occasional insensitive comment shared on marketing platforms and instead focus on a brand’s actual commitment to causes that matter to them. Including Ulta’s recently announced plans to invest $50 million in diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

Gene Detroyer

“38 percent say society has gone too far in accepting transgender individuals.”

I must wonder what too far means and where we stop accepting. Is it “too far” to say that not everyone in America does not have the same individual rights?

Georganne Bender

The world is full of three kinds of people: Those who get it, those who don’t, and those who never will. The second group can evolve, and the third group isn’t worth worrying about. Keep it up, Ulta. Our differences should be celebrated.

DeAnn Campbell

Every human deserves to feel attractive, regardless of age, gender, culture or otherwise, and beauty isn’t just for women. I’m also quite frankly puzzled by the complaints flung at people whose hearts are in the right place but might not get the words quite right in this new and evolving age of discovery. Sephora and Ulta have demonstrated they are brave enough to have an honest discussion about LGBTQ and other issues that are not commonly aired. With continued support and kind, constructive recommendations rather than unproductive criticism, we’ll all learn to appreciate the beauty in everyone.

Craig Sundstrom

It won’t. Either way. (and it’s an incredibly small market) This is October’s entry into the “biggest faux controversy of 2022” contest.

"It’s smart for Ulta and Sephora to appeal to every single customer."
"Keep it up, Ulta. Our differences should be celebrated."
"...tread carefully, thoughtfully and authentically."

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