Ulta Ramps Up Efforts To Dethrone Sephora

A brewing fight between national retail cosmetics chains Ulta and Sephora could get ugly fast.

In an interview with Bloomberg Business, Dave Kimbell, chief merchandising and marketing officer at Ulta Beauty, outlined his company's plan to boost name recognition and market share among makeup buyers across the country. Founded in 1990 and long relegated to standalone suburban locations instead of high-traffic urban malls, Ulta has struggled to achieve the brand notoriety of its rival, Sephora. However, Kimbell told Bloomberg that Ulta would be starting a nationwide ad campaign to boost, among many things, name recognition.

“There are still a lot of women across the country, even in our oldest market of Chicago, who haven’t heard of Ulta,” Kimbell said. “Or, if they have, they don’t really understand what we’re all about.”

According to Statista, the U.S. cosmetic industry drives upwards of $56.63 billion annually, and capturing even a fractionally larger piece of that pie could set Ulta up for long-term profits. The company has plans to run television spots during primetime shows like "The Voice," "Dancing With the Stars" and "Scandal," but the choice to brand itself as bright and energetic in direct opposition to Sephora's sleek and chic branding could be the ultimate indicator of success.

If Ulta truly does wish to take Sephora's spot on the cosmetics food chain, though, it has some serious ground to make up. Sephora has already announced a subscription-based makeup delivery service, which will be available to customers in Boston, Columbus and Cincinnati in the fall.

Unless Ulta's new ad campaign can breakthrough to the customers Sephora has already won over to its side, Ulta's push for name recognition may end up being no better than lipstick on a pig.

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