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Brand Purpose Cosmetics Black Lives Matter

Ad of the Day: Sephora spotlights the Black innovations behind mainstream beauty


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

August 4, 2021 | 6 min read

Beauty haven Sephora has launched ‘Black Beauty is Beauty’, a new campaign celebrating the countless Black traditions and inventions that have propagated the beauty trends we all know and love – from stylized baby hairs and cut-crease eyeshadow to glitter and shea butter-based skincare. The campaign is part of the retailer’s broader commitment to advancing racial equity in the beauty and retail sectors.

A mother doing her child's hair

Sephora shines a spotlight on the traditions to which we owe our trends

Popular cosmetics retailer Sephora has today launched a new national ad campaign spotlighting the outsized impact of Black innovations on the world of beauty. The campaign’s hero film ‘Black Beauty is Beauty’ spotlights Black stories, communities and cultural traditions behind popular beauty tools and techniques beloved by people everywhere.

“Many of the trends we all participate in today, including acrylic nails, glitter, contouring and many more have roots in Black culture,” says Sephora’s senior vice-president of marketing and brand Abigail Jacobs. “This is not widely known or celebrated. We believe that knowledge is a powerful tool and as such, as part of Sephora’s overarching diversity and inclusion journey, wanted to leverage our platform and our beauty community to recognize and celebrate Black beauty, and invite everyone to participate in it.”

A beautiful origin story

Developed by creative agency R/GA, the hero film tells the story through collage-inspired cuts juxtaposing visuals of mainstream beauty trends against historical imagery of their roots in Black culture. “What is beauty without Black beauty? Its influence is universal,” viewers hear in a voiceover. “There’d be no cut creases or ‘beat faces’ without these legendary icons.”

The project saw Black creators collaborate from inception to production and launch. Helmed by senior vice-president and executive creative director Shannon Washington, R/GA was responsible for the creative vision and execution, while Black artists and stylists came together to bring the signature looks to life.

Drag queen

The spot was directed by filmmaker Garrett Bradley, who Washington says was the ideal fit for the production. “There is a level of care with Garrett’s work ... from her Naomi Osaka documentary series to her Oscar-nominated film Time. And after our first conversation, it was clear that she understood the multiple layers in this work – this visual thesis that we wanted to bring to the world,” she says. “This isn’t a typical anthem film or a spot – it’s a journey through ingenuity, subculture and celebration. And it needed to be treated with a particular level of care and thought, so Garrett was perfect. And she’s just so cool! As a Black woman, I’m always happy when I can create a space for Black creatives in the commercial realm that don’t require a sacrifice of their aesthetic or values, so I’m happy and honored that her commercial debut is with this work.”

Advancing racial equity in the retail and beauty spaces

The campaign builds on Sephora’s commitment to racial equity and justice. Last June, amid a cultural reckoning surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, the company became the first major retailer to sign the 15 Percent Pledge to carry 15% more Black-owned brands. Some of the retailer’s top Black-owned brands include Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, Topicals and Pat McGrath Labs. In the time since, retailers including Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Ulta Beauty and Crate & Barrel have taken the pledge, originally proposed by Brooklyn-based creative Aurora James in May of 2020.

In addition to signing the 15 Percent Pledge, Sephora recently commissioned and completed a study on racial bias in the retail space, which among other results found that 74% of retail shoppers feel that marketing fails to showcase a diverse range of skin tones, body types and hair textures and a staggering 82% have difficulty finding associates who are familiar with their unique needs. Following the conclusion of the study, Sephora developed and published an action plan to combat racial inequity and injustice in the shopping experience, which includes plans to make changes across hiring, marketing merchandising, operations, in-store experience and more. The company puts out periodic progress reports on this action plan; its most recent was published last week.

Women in beauty salon

“We want to drive sustained seismic change in the beauty industry,” says Jacobs. She hopes the new campaign will contribute to driving change in the right direction. “The real ideal [of the campaign] is education and conversation. We want to get people talking – to have a ‘did you know’ moment.”

Sephora believes that this is a critical moment for sustaining the growing support for and commitment to Black-owned brands. From January to December of 2020, Google searches for ‘Black-owned businesses’ shot up 600% compared to the same period the previous year. However, the level of interest among consumers – especially in the beauty space – has since declined. Sephora is on a mission to combat this trend by investing in Black-owned beauty brands and generating more interest in these brands and their products through multichannel marketing efforts.

Following today’s release of ‘Black Beauty is Beauty’, Sephora will kick off a multichannel brand marketing campaign spotlighting individual Black-owned beauty brands across categories including skincare, hair products, make-up and fragrance. The campaign, which will run through November of this year, will include broadcast television spots, digital and paid advertising efforts and influencer partnerships – all meant to amplify Black voices and the impact of Black culture on beauty.

“The contributions that Black culture and Black innovators have given to the beauty industry overall is a story worth celebrating,” says Jacobs.

Mother with child

For more, sign up for The Drum’s daily US newsletter here. And vote for the campaign in our Creative Works here.

Sephora: Black Beauty is Beauty by RGA

By Sephora

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