The Beauty of Blackness Takes Center Stage in Ulta Beauty's 'MUSE' Campaign

And not a moment too soon

With help from McCann, Ulta Beauty has launched a campaign called "MUSE" that's designed to visually reflect an ambitious series of diversity commitments. This builds on efforts it made last year to broaden its way of representing beauty generally.

The campaign video description reads, "We are humbled to announce MUSE, our commitment to Magnify, Uplift, Support and Empower Black voices in beauty."

MUSE | Ulta Beauty

The creative team for this work is composed almost entirely of diverse women, including Black women, who are poorly represented in advertising. The team's impact can be tangibly felt, because the star here is really the hair.

Hair is a big issue for Black Americans. To understand all the tacit ways in which Blackness is treated as the lowest rung of our cultural caste system, it's a good place to start. It goes further than the idea that whiteness is our cultural ideal of beauty; natural Black hair is often treated as unprofessional in many workplaces, forcing many Black Americans to expensively alter or hide it just to be perceived as acceptable.

This invasive attempt to control Black hair has a long history on U.S. soil, beginning in the 1700s, when, in cities like New Orleans, edicts like the Tignon Laws decreed that free Creole women wear scarves or handkerchiefs over their heads like enslaved women often did for work, making free Black women indistinguishable from their counterparts. 

Natural Black hair became such a symbol for Black power and freedom that in the 1960s, it was a visual symbol for the "Black Is Beautiful" movement; activist Angela Davis is perhaps easiest to recognize by her afro, even today.

These norms change with frustrating sluggishness, and dramatically affect people's sense of self-worth. It's among the reasons why the short film "Hair Love" and Beyoncé's 2016 music video for "Formation" felt so revolutionary; whole articles were devoted to the diversity of Black women's hairstyles in the latter work. It is galvanizing to see yourself reflected, defiantly beautiful, in media that wasn't designed to lift you up. This is, of course, why representation is so important.

We're not the right person to do this topic the justice it deserves, so here's a piece where 22 women talk about what it's like to show up to corporate jobs with natural Black hair. Or read Kink, written by Trina Charles and Jay-Ann Lopez, co-founders of the natural Black hair community platform Curlture. (We interviewed Lopez last year; it's a good read.)

Thus, the MUSE campaign's focus on glorifying natural Black beauty, coming from a recognized beauty brand, is long and impatiently awaited—not as an alternative to supporting Black-owned brands, but as a gesture toward changing mainstream perceptions of beauty in the long term. Like Virgil Abloh's latest work for Louis Vuitton, it will lift many ships along with it.

"As the country's beauty retail leader, we believe we have the power to shape how the world sees beauty, and as such, we have a responsibility to inspire positive change and drive greater diversity, inclusivity and equity," says Ulta Beauty CEO Mary Dillon. "We are deeply committed to leading purposefully with and for underrepresented voices across retail and beauty on our D&I journey."

Let's talk about that journey, which in 2021 will reflect a brand investment of over $25 million. About $20 million of that will be allocated to media investments on endemic and multicultural platforms to better address LatinX, Black and other communities, more than doubling Ulta's spend on such platforms over the past three years. 

Some $4 million will go to marketing support of Ulta's Black-owned brands—the number of which it plans to double by the end of the year.

And in March, it will launch quarterly in-store training for all store and salon associates to reinforce inclusivity and address unconscious bias, an investment of $2 million. This will build on the existing Race Matters Leadership Training program launched in 2020. They will be mandatory, and represent a doubling of diversity and inclusion training enterprise-wide for the second year in a row. 

All this will be accompanied by inclusive recruitment efforts with a "diverse slate mandate," a Diverse Leaders Program to groom 30 high-potential associates with executive and CEO mentorship, and annual performance reviews that include the championing of diversity, and competency in inclusion, among the evaluation topics.

Additionally, CEO and founder Tracee Ellis Ross of PATTERN Beauty has become the brand's diversity and inclusion advisor, a role Ulta takes care to mention is "formalized," so we hope there'll be real support behind that title. 

"I look forward to formalizing an already existing dialogue and partnership around diversity and inclusion with Mary Dillon and the Ulta Beauty team," Ross says. "This work requires commitment and accountability from Ulta Beauty to ensure measurable goals are achieved. I am hopeful and optimistic our work together will create foundational change." 

The MUSE hero video debuted on the Today show, Good Morning America and during the broadcast of This Is Us.

CREDITS

Client:
Shelley Haus: CMO
Karla Davis: VP Integrated Marketing
Lisa Lu: Snr Manager Integrated Marketing
Christine White: Snr Director Social & Media Strategy
Sally Scarborough: Director Brand Partner Marketing
Eileen Ziesemer: VP Public Relations

Creative:
McCann New York
Kathleen O'Brien, EVP Executive Creative Director
Gabrielle Shirdan, VP Creative Director
Ruth Boulter, Creative Director
Emma Kasarsky, Art Director
Idara Akpan, Copywriter
Tomas Almuna, Copywriter, Translator 

Production and Talent:
Debbie Dunlap, SVP Executive Integrated Producer
Jory Sutton, Senior Integrated Producer
Dan Gross, Senior Integrated Music Producer
Jamie Jou, Business Manager, Music 
Gordon Corte, Talent Manager, Business Affairs 
Natalie Hernandez, Business Manager 

Account and Strategy:
Jaclyn Currie, SVP Executive Account Director
Colleen Moisio, VP Account Director
Diandra Garcia, Account Director
Courtney Marin, Account Supervisor
Rachel Zambernardi, Account Executive
Deb Freeman, SVP Group Strategy Director
Jordan Berger, Strategy Director
Jacklyn Baillergeon, Senior Strategist
Mads Murphy, Associate Social Strategist

Debbie Fried, Associate Director of Project Management
Production Partner Credits:
Production Company: Good Company 
Director, Joshua Kissi 
Director of Photography, Jomo Fray 
Managing Director, EP: Ryan Heiferman
Line Producer: Nikkia Moulterie
Production Manager, Taylor Shung
Production Coordinator, Desiree Abeyta
2nd AD, Tess Raih
Gaffer, Alexa Harris
Key Grip, Julio Yurnet 
Production Designer, Mary Howard
Hair: Andrita Renee
Make-Up, Alana Wright 
Wardrobe Stylist, Mecca James Williams
Manicurist, Dawn Sterling 

Editorial: Good Company 
Editor, Jie 'Kat' Yi & Hao-Hung 'Jerry' Chia 
Executive Producer, Ralph Miccio
Producer, Ben Lomeli 

Original Musical Score: Esabalu & Brandon Jhon 
Sound Mixing: Sonic Union 
Engineer: Michael Marinelli & Owen Shearer 
Producer: Carolyn Mandkavitz
Color Correct: Company 3
Colorist: Kath Raisch

Profile picture for user Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is a founding contributor to Muse. She is also the co-founder of esports agency Hurrah.gg, and co-author of Generation Creation.

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