How Sephora is building connections beyond its stores

The retailer is going mass with its first TV commercial for anyone who's never connected with the inclusive brand.


Much of Sephora’s marketing, and much of the brand’s purpose, is a product of the interactions that occur behind its store walls. Anyone who’s shopped its beauty-laden bars would likely agree that the retailer is an advocate of self-expression. It’s spent years creating a safe space for a diverse consumer camp to find their beautiful, without judgement from its beauty advisors, Deborah Neff, the brand’s VP of marketing tells strategy.

Indeed, Sephora sales associates have even helped customers through “major life events,” from being bullied to the trials of being a newly landed immigrant, says Neff.

The brand, which started in France in 1969 and opened its first Canadian store in 2004, has aimed to embrace inclusivity for all who walk through its doors. But now it’s on a journey to bring its purpose to anyone who has yet to visit its stores.

“Diversity, exclusivity, and empowerment is at the core of Sephora’s DNA,” says the marketer in an email explaining why the brand is currently rolling out year two of a campaign that celebrates and connects Sephora to the rich microcosm that is Canada. This time, the brand is calling the platform “We Belong to Something Beautiful” instead of last year’s “#WithSephora,” a tag expressing similar ambitions to highlight beauty in its many different forms, from queer-identifying to plus-sized women and drag artists.

However, the 2019 iteration, says Neff, attempts to foster a sense of belonging through more mass and visual-based media channels like TV, a first for the brand. Typically, Sephora’s go-to channels for consumer outreach has consisted of social, OOH and print. But the stories it wanted to tell  that of 11 local Canadians, each noticeably and culturally different  were too “raw, empowering, beautiful and inspiring” to be told through studio-shot photos that are simply thrown online, says Neff.

The Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto personalities are being given the big screen in homes and in cinemas in the first part of two campaign “chapters” the brand plans to roll out this summer. Toronto’s Virtue helped develop the creative that kicks off with an anthem spot (below) featuring all 11 unique Canadians. In the second chapter, a whole new set of “collaborators” will be featured in narrative-driven content that will also be uniquely themed, says Neff.

Creative will also show up on billboards, transit stations, social and experiential channels in urban centres.

The primary motive behind “We Belong to Something Beautiful” is to communicate the brand’s purpose of “inspiring fearlessness and cultivating an inclusive community” to customers who have never shopped with the retailer. Sephora’s strategy to use collaborators who have done advocacy work in local areas (only Toronto personalities will be shown in Toronto creative assets, for example) is meant to inspire others to do the same for their own communities, says Neff. This idea of giving back is also supported by “Classes for Confidence” (beauty workshops), which the retailer recently began offering to anyone going through a “transition.”

“People are constantly told they are not good enough and feel forced to cover and hide their differences, leaving many to feel like they don’t belong,” says Neff. “However, in this digital age, consumers have become more aware and are holding brands accountable. They are looking for transparency [and] this campaign truly holds a mirror to the beauty of Canada’s diversity.”

While the beauty retailer ramps up efforts to communicate messaging around inclusivity in Canada, its reputation recently went under fire stateside when R&B artist SZA said that a sales associate called security on her while shopping at a Sephora store in California. The star tweeted earlier in April stating that she had been removed from the store after being accused of stealing, reportedly prompting Sephora to close all of its U.S. stores, distribution centres and corporate offices for diversity and inclusion training in June. According to a representative for the brand, Sephora had been working on the “We Belong to Something Beautiful” campaign in Canada 12 months prior to the incident in the U.S.