Sorry, I have plans with myself

How Space NK and FCB Inferno redefined aspiration to create the space to celebrate and elevate the diversity of beauty experiences.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director


“The pandemic has had a profound impact; our homes have become our schools, our place of work, and the boundaries have become so blurred.” Emma Simpson-Scott, Chief Marketing Officer at Space NK, is explaining the insight behind Space NK’s first TV advertising campaign in over a decade. For a beauty brand which has long-rooted its brand in the concept of space, in the wake of a year in which the pressure of the pandemic has left many people feeling like they are folding themselves into ever decreasing corners of their home it's a strategy that is uniquely powerful. 

For a beauty brand which has long-rooted itself in the concept of space, the past year has seen this strategy become uniquely powerful as the pandemic has forced its customers to fold themselves into ever-decreasing corners of their own homes. 

“We’ve been trying to find that space to breathe, to find a moment of space in your home,” explains Simpson-Scott. It is a trend which is reflected in purchasing behaviours at the store which has included a marked shift towards ‘self-care’ products. A significant shift away from the self-flagellation and self-loathing which has historically gone hand in hand with beauty brands marketing products on the basis of ‘self-improvement’.

So what does the Covid consumer look like? According to Simpson-Scott as we went into the first lockdown there was a huge focus on hygiene-orientated brands. As salons closed haircare went into overdrive, while the grounding of travel plans brought with it a surge in sales of self-tan products. Another core trend was the 200% uplift in the sales of high-tech skincare products as consumers’ home spas compensated for the closure of beauty salons and cosmetic surgery providers.

Today, in (hopefully) the latter stages of the pandemic consumers are focused on the summer they want to have. Regardless of whether those summer plans will come to fruition, Space NK’s consumers are embracing what Simpson-Scott describes as the ‘Wanderlust Trend’ with a focus on fragrances that bring memories of summer holidays, as well as comforting home moods.

Beauty has been this unachievable vision of perfection which just makes people feel crap about themselves. Be more creative; women can define their own beauty without judgement.

Sharon Jiggins, Chief Marketing Officer at FCB Inferno

Creating Space

The pressure and lack of space, whether mental or physical, experienced by many consumers over the  past 12 months is  brought to life by the campaign’s strapline: “Beauty is a space to make your own”.  This approach underpins the brand’s understanding that beauty is about more than what you look like; it’s about how you feel. A nuance which is particularly important to recognise in the context of an advertising ecosystem which historically has contributed to a narrative in which women find themselves constantly falling short.

Sharon Jiggins, Chief Marketing Officer at FCB Inferno, believes that some brands have been too slow to react to the reality of women’s lives. “Beauty has been this unachievable vision of perfection which just makes people feel crap about themselves,” she explains. 

“Be more creative; women can define their own beauty without judgement,” she continues, pointing to the fact that lockdown brought with it a huge sense of freedom when it came to beauty and routine.  

For Simpson-Scott this freedom was evident in the research that the brand undertook throughout the pandemic to understand how consumers were reacting and responding. She explains: “There was a real shift towards what works for you and how you can be your true self.” A shift which she believes focused the brand on what makes their consumers feel good as well as a broader shift towards sustainability. 

“With the pandemic, there has been more awareness of the spaces we live in and more focus on the sustainability and purpose of the products we use,” she adds. 

The pandemic has had a profound impact; our homes have become our schools, our place of work, and the boundaries have become so blurred.

Emma Simpson-Scott, Chief Marketing Officer at Space NK

Redefining beauty

From a mother breastfeeding on a Zoom call, to the strapline 'Running on coffee and dry shampoo’, this campaign recognises the unprecedented nature of the past 12 months with authenticity, diversity and inclusion at its core. 

“Diversity and inclusion was one of our key objectives for the campaign,” explains Simpson-Scott. “It is intrinsically linked to our company values and our desire to be reflective of our employees.”

This approach is also key to the brand’s close relationship with FCB Inferno, the agency behind the groundbreaking This Girl Can campaign. “It’s one of the many reasons why we work with Sharon and the FCB team,” explains Simpson-Soctt. “They have a real commitment to diversity and inclusion and they truly champion it. In the pitch process it stood out because they really championed inclusion the whole way through.”

It's a commitment which comes to life in the campaign, through the lived experiences of 10 different characters, who all redefine what aspiration in beauty means through their own lens. Whether it's taking a bath or grabbing two minutes to spray some dry shampoo in your hair; this is beauty bending around the reality of women’s lives.

For FCB Inferno’s Jiggins, the campaign underlines the importance of recognising women’s diverse attitudes to beauty. Beauty means different things to different people at different stages of their lives and day. As she explains, the diverse cast showcased this myriad of experiences. “Ultimately, diversity really opens up your audiences. Diversity drives business results. When you represent more people, you can attract more customers.”

Seize the opportunity for growth

Attracting more customers also demands investment, a fundamental truth which is all too easily overlooked by marketers in the midst of the pressures of the pandemic world. 

Notably, this campaign marks Space NK’s first TV campaign. “There has always been a ‘batten down the hatches’ approach when it comes to marketing in a crisis. But the opportunity is there,” explains Simpson-Scott.

Whether it is carving out the space for a beauty ritual, or investing in marketing in a crisis, both Jiggins and Simpson-Scott are eloquent and articulate about the reality of the juggle for women in the midst of the pandemic. 

Yet despite these challenges, as this campaign beautifully underlines, there remains the opportunity to change the narrative when it comes to women in advertising and beyond. For, as brands look to build back better in an experience-deprived consumer ecosystem, brands such as Space NK are blazing a trail.

For despite the sniggering from male politicians whenever hair and nail salons are mentioned in the House of Commons, those working in the UK’s £28bn beauty industry have long set the benchmark for experience in retail and are an important lynchpin of the high street. 

“Our stores have always been welcoming and safe spaces to explore beauty,” explains Simpson-Scott, who reveals that in the wake of the pandemic beauty advisors have been dispensing advice online, while also replicating that vital tangible touch and smell moment, by sending samples to consumers' homes.

As brands reconsider the roles of their online and offline retail experience in the wake of the pandemic, Space NK’s campaign is a timely reminder that marketers need to focus not just on opening their stores, but opening their minds. What constitutes aspiration has fundamentally shifted; leaving marketers with an important question: are you reflecting who they are, or still stuck in the status quo of telling them who to be?


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