We're Not in Love With Sephora's Strange Meditation on Beauty

Is it just a phase they're going through?

"Beauty is changing," Olivier Vigneaux, CEO of BETC Digital, tells us. "It is less and less that desperate gaze toward an unattainable goal, shaped and retouched to remain unattainable, and more and more a discussion we have with ourselves and the path of self-acceptance and self-love."

This is what BETC tries to capture in "The Unlimited Power of Beauty" for Sephora. Directed by Jonas Lindstroem, the three-minute film follows a woman as she grapples with self-love throughout life.

Sephora | The Unlimited Power of Beauty

The work unfolds to Kelsey Lu's cover of "I'm Not in Love." Florence Bellison, president and creative director of BETC's Etoile Rouge, tells Muse the track was "chosen for its emotional power that resonates in everyone, but also for its femininity."

We feel that. Halfway through, the musical heartbeat cuts away to make space around the moment someone first tells our heroine, "I'm not in love." Such style! We're halfway through her adolescence then; we'll go on following her through 2053, when she stands luminous in self-acceptance, her face almost entirely unadorned, even of hair. 

Here are a few things this work does right: It plays to BETC's strengths. It moves like a dance. The music is moody and cool, diversity's on point, and it does feel feminine, even if not all the characters are women. The balance between natural beauty and the use of cosmetics is mindful—makeup is used as play, a whimsical act of affection, or a meaningful flourish. Never is it used to suggest you look better with it on. 

That's hard. Whether that reflects the subtle touch of BETC founder, president and ECD Rémi Babinet, or newcomer creative director Bellisson, is anybody's guess. Probably it's both: "Luxury and beauty are part of her DNA," Babinet says of his colleague.

"We wanted to affirm the essentiality of beauty throughout life, and in doing so, reaffirm the role and benefit of the whole industry," Bellisson says. "The film tells the story of a woman's relationship with her reflection throughout life, giving voice to moments of doubt as well as strength. The intimacy and emotion in each exploration of beauty portrays them as moments of personal evolution and growth at each stage of her life."

So far so good. But if lack of clarity can hide behind beautiful shots and a cover song, it inevitably always reveals itself in the copy. 

Let's start with the tagline and its bombastic adjective: "The Unlimited Power of Beauty" is incomprehensible. What does it mean—that beauty's power is boundless…? Can we harness it to unmelt glaciers? It reeks of decision by committee. 

The force implied in a word like "power" (never mind unlimited power!) seems out of phase with the heroine's trajectory. She's not tapping into a power source that beauty affords her; she's instead learning to be strong enough to appreciate her own beauty, regardless of how others perceive her. In other words, she is learning empowerment, not exploiting beauty's power. (That would have been a very different story.)

But the tagline isn't the only niggle. The copywriting feels unfocused overall, which is surprising for production quality this high. Consider the words that clumsily conclude the film.

"Nobody told me it will feel this way. New, ugly questions: Am I getting old? Will somebody love this face? Where is it all going? But then I remember that power again: The power that I am … me."

It's a weird narrative. It doesn't so much wander as bluster through this woman's mind. The final result resembles a life without entirely reflecting one. (Asked whether any personal experiences informed the work, BETC's response was monosyllabic: "No.")

The video accompanies a print series by British photographer Nadine Ijewere, whose imagery captures a strong idea behind "The Unlimited Power of Beauty" in a way those words just don't. 

Click images to enlarge.

People of varied age, appearance, gender and style pop vividly through black Sephora-branded frames. Again, beautiful work that feels subversive and fresh on its own. And it would probably have survived a mediocre tagline… if it weren't also flanked by unfortunate platitudes: "Strong is beautiful. Beautiful is strong," "Dare to go bare," "Let time glow by."

Your ad school teacher wouldn't let those lines glow by, and BETC is too good an agency for copy this cringey.

Asked what he hopes the outcome of the work will be, Babinet is pensive. "We hope that it will create room for self-expression, showing the variety of authentic and powerful beauties that make up today's world," he says. "This campaign shows a new vision of women: more natural, more 'real,' relatable, aspirational. [There's] a real message about self-identity and self-building, all without imposing standards to adhere to. If the audience takes that away, we will have achieved our goal." 
But he also hopes it will make an impact within the sector itself. "For internal employees, we hope that this inspiring mission will reignite pride by demonstrating the impact of their profession, that they will feel invested in a community that goes far beyond sales and performance." 

Again: Best to focus on one ambition at a time.

The campaign goes live in stores today. Starting tomorrow, it will begin its run through cinemas and on billboards; Feb. 23 will see its TV debut in the French market. See more print iterations below.



Brand: Sephora
Brand Management: Guillaume Motte, Lisa Attia, Laetitia Rambaud, Bénédicte Sugauste
Agency: BETC
Agency Management: Rémi Babinet, Olivier Vigneaux, Alice Dumortier, Caroline Flak, Zoé Bianchina
Executive Creative Director: Rémi Babinet
Creative Director: Florence Bellisson
Creative Supervisor: Yuki Kani
Associate Creative Supervisor: Peggy Baunay
Artistic Director: Manon Damelincourt
Copywriter: Xander Smith 
Director Of Music Creation: Christophe Caurret
Strategic Planning: Jean-Patrick Spitz, Donya Bouzarjomehri
Traffic: Letizia Felici 
TV Producer: Elodie Frevillez Wattinne
Production House: Iconoclast / Charlotte Marmion
Sound Production: Iconoclast Publishing 
Director: Jonas Lindstroem

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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