Ulta Beauty's 'Where Our Dreams Begin' Is an Ode to Simple Things

Selling beauty without making it about artifice

We've talked before about how advertising this year feels more meditative. Ulta Beauty's latest, "Where Our Dreams Begin" by McCann New York, falls in this vein. 

Directed by Malik Hassan Sayeed of Little Minx, the work doesn't seem to have much to say about physical beauty; it's more about the state of feeling beautiful, and where and how that happens, whatever your age or appearance.

Where Dreams Begin | Ulta Beauty

A custom arrangement of the song "This Is Where Dreams Begin," performed in English by Esabalu (and by Ella Bric in a Spanish version), sets the stage. Ulta's diversity game is on point in terms of body type, ethnic background and age, but it centers on women and girls. Sometimes they're together or with loved ones ... but mostly they're alone, often in indoor spaces or open settings.

There isn't a mask in sight, but Covid's effect can be felt: These are places where, generally, you're probably not wearing one. The world of masks is out of frame, but lingering at its edges.

McCann calls "Where Our Dreams Begin" a "celebration of optimism, togetherness, new beginnings." That sounds like standard issue feel-good fodder, but we recognize a particular thirst for that now, and Ulta seems to, too: Its ambition is to "[shine] a light on our vital need for hope and dreams as we all navigate these challenging times."

Ah, that phrase! Well, at least it isn't in the ad itself. 

There's a strong temptation to compare the sheer simplicity of this work to another meditation on beauty—Sephora's "The Unlimited Power of Beauty" by BETC, released in February. That ad followed a single woman through her life and, strangely, into the future (2053!). There was a lot going on, and we didn't like it much. It felt like an over-narrated attempt to make a hero's journey out of discovering your own worth. (Asked, later, whether any personal experiences informed the work, BETC surprisingly replied, "No.")

Despite appearances, we're sensitive to the difficulty of the brief. It's natural for a makeup company to want to talk about beauty. And the last few years have seen brands consciously try to express beauty in less prescribed ways—making it less about being skinny, young, white and seductive. 

The challenge is an interesting one. How do you convey the importance of beauty without making it about artifice, especially when you're selling makeup? 

Ulta seems to understand how to walk that line in a way Sephora couldn't quite manage. And while the work feels a little too neat and careful to reflect messy, complex reality, it does seem to breathe something true: During confinement, I did miss feeling beautiful. And the fact that I had nowhere to go and no physical expectations to live up to changed the way I dressed, and the way I cared for my body.

An intimacy formed that didn't quite exist before. You can see it in the joking way people talk about how they don't want to wear pants or bras anymore. We came to relate to, and care for, ourselves differently. 

It surprised me when I began to wear makeup again—just a little, for myself, as an act of affection, the way some people lovingly braid the husks of freshly gathered corn.

It is beauty as an act of tribute.

That's what you see here: the woman quietly applying lipstick, or dancing alone. The man delicately painting a woman's toenails, the father brushing his beaming daughter's hair, one child straightening another's tiara. 

When something comes from a relatable place—like that longing to feel beloved, and also cherished, and thus beautiful—you don't need to tell a big story about it. It can be seen and felt.

"Where Our Dreams Begin" will run through fall 2020 and into 2021. You can catch it on TV, social media and other digital platforms.


Agency Credits: McCann NY

Kathleen O'Brien, EVP Executive Creative Director
Gabrielle Shirdan, VP Creative Director
Ruth Boulter, Creative Director
Jen Andrews, Creative Director
Diana Tantillo, Art Director
Emma Kasarsky, Art Director
Wykella Patrick, Copywriter

Production and Talent:
Danielle Korn, EVP Head of Talent Partnerships
Eric Johnson, SVP, Executive Integrated Music Producer
Debbie Dunlap, SVP Executive Integrated Producer
Jory Sutton, Integrated Producer
Dan Gross, Integrated Music Producer
Jamie Jou, Business Manager, Music 
Natalie Hernandez, Business Manager 

Account and Strategy:
Jaclyn Currie, SVP Executive Account Director
Colleen Moisio, VP Account Director
Courtney Marin, Account Supervisor
Allie Koestler, Assistant Account Executive
Debbie Fried, Associate Director of Project Management
Deb Freeman, SVP Group Strategy Director
Jordan Berger, Strategy Director
Jacklyn Baillergeon, Senior Strategist
Mads Murphy, Associate Social Strategist

Ulta Beauty:

Shelley Haus, CMO
Karla Davis, Director Integrated Marketing & Media 
Lisa Lu, Senior Integrated Marketing Manager

Production Partner Credits:
Production Company: Little Minx
Director / Director of Photography: Malik Hassan Sayeed
President: Rhea Scott
Executive Producer: Helen Hollien
Line Producer: Natalie Hill
Production Manager: Aaron Bradley
Production Coordinator: Camil Michalczuk
1st AD: George Nessis
Gaffer: Donald "Mazi" Mitchell
Key Grip: Otis Burkes
Production Designer: Quito Cooksey
Hair / Make-Up: Dimitris Giannoudis, Lottie and Tsippora
Wardrobe Stylist: Arianne Phillips
Location Manager: Charchi Stinston
Gangboss: Reed Randoy

Editorial: Cut & Run
Editor: Eric Argiro
Managing Director: Lauren Hertzberg
Executive Producer: Ellese Shell 
Producer: Hope DuHaime 

Sound Design, Mixing: Sonic Union
Engineer: Joe O'Connell
Producer: Carolyn Mandlavitz

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Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is the European markets editor at Muse by Clio. She also writes about gaming and fashion, and whatever else she's interested in, really. She's based in Paris and North Italy, so if you're local, say hi. She might eat all your food.

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