David LaChapelle Gives Makeup the Willy Wonka Treatment in Ads for Ulta Beauty

Chain's first national spots

Ulta Beauty is more than a chain that sells beauty products. It's a playground brimming with delight and surprise, a shopping experience that will make you feel like a kid in a candy store. Really!

That's the message of Ulta's first national brand campaign from Mullen Lowe.

Tagged "All Things Beauty," the initiative features digital units and spots directed in a whimsical, surrealistic style by filmmaker and photographer David LaChapelle. In a pair of 15-second ads, products sold at the store serve as colorful props, standing in for tasty treats in a confectionary shop in one ad, and as the rippling waves of an ornate pool in another.

"As soon as I saw these scripts, I was intrigued at the thought of the interesting colorful playground Ulta wanted to create," LaChapelle—an Andy Warhol protégé whose often provocative commercial work includes the once-controversial "kissing sailors" print ad for Diesel—tells AdFreak.

As part of the push, Ulta will make its SnapChat debut and run ads on Google Preferred/YouTube, PopSugar and Spotify. The media buy covers national cable and shows on ABC and NBC, as well as shoppable episodes of Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce on Bravo.

Stretching beyond the bounds of typical beauty campaigns was a must, says Christy Blain, group creative director at Mullen Lowe. "We had to break from the beauty clutter to stand out and get noticed. The goal of the creative was to capture the spirit of the store," which Blain describes as "bright and bubbly and fun and pressure-free."

In other words, you're not at Sephora anymore, Dorothy.

To convey that vibe, "We were adamant that all the products be real and caught in camera, so there was no CGI used to build out the sets," Blain says. "The entire pool and every single dessert in the sweet shop was made out of one or more of the 20,000 beauty products Ulta Beauty sells."

LaChapelle says he enjoyed bringing an artsy touch to a retail campaign. "Art in advertising is definitely possible," he says, "if advertisers and clients are willing to trust the artists they work with to deliver captivating work while still portraying the message and brand."

For Ulta, his playful visual élan yields some tempting eye candy that sweetens the brand proposition.

Client: Ulta Beauty
CMO: Dave Kimbell
Agency: Mullen Lowe, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Chief Creative Officer: Mark Wenneker
Executive Creative Director: Jason Black
Group Creative Director: Christy Blain  
Senior Copywriter: Lindsay Walker
Group Account Director: Anne Elwell
Director of Broadcast Production: Susanna Gates Rose
Senior Art Producer: John Rosato
Photographer/Director: David LaChapelle
Director of Photography: Jonathan Sela
Set Designer: Annie Sperling
Producer: Ron Morhoff
Production Company: The Mill
Producer: Leighton Greer
Lead Finishing Artist: Becky Porter
Lead Colorist: Greg Reese
Editorial: Final Cut
Editor: Adam Rudd
Producer: Jessica Locke
Audio: Beacon Street Studios
Composer: Andrew Feltenstein
Composer: John Nau
Producer: Adrea Lavezzoli
Producer: Kate Vadnais
Mixer: Mike Franklin