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Branding Lessons from Ulta & Kate Spade

Ulta Beauty recently blasted out an email with the subject line: “Come hang with Kate Spade.” For those of you who have forgotten, the late and great fashion designer died by hanging herself in 2018. OMG! What a tragic choice of words.

4 Branding Lessons from Ulta’s Snafu.

Ulta, however, acted swiftly and earned my respect by the following:

  1. It Owed Up to The Mistake and Apologized – The beauty retailer issued a new email with the subject line “We’re Sorry.” Its continuing paragraph took ownership of the issue with …” a very insensitive choice of words was used and for that we are very sorry.” Now, compare that apology to the infamous slap heard around the world from Will Smith and notice that in his apology (one day after the ceremony) that he still attempts to justify his behavior: “Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada's medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally."

  2. The Apology Is Written in The Active Vs. Passive Voice – Regardless if you remember grammar or not, there’s a huge difference between “I made a mistake” and “A mistake was made.” In the latter example, the doer takes no responsibility for the action as if it an incident just happened. When the National Women’s Soccer League prohibited a banner that proudly used the word “gay,” it later took back its words with this lame apology: “…a mistake was made when the club asked the Black Swans to remove the banner that said ‘GAY.” See the difference?

  3. Addresses the Larger Issue - Ulta is quick to point out that May is Mental Health Awareness month which is a serious issue.

  4. Ensures it Won’t Happen Again – And finally, the apologetic email highlights that it is reviewing internal reviewing policies so egregious emails like this never happen again.

We all know in business that we will make mistakes; it’s not a question of “if,” but a question of “when.” As a result, heed these lessons to apologize quickly, own up to the mistake, and if necessary make amends as appropriate.

To your sizzling success,


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1 Comment

Vatsala Shukla
Vatsala Shukla
May 13, 2022

Good mental health has become an even bigger cause of concern due to the pandemic. According to a doctor who I know working in the Emergency Ward of a highly reputed hospital, he saw more walk-ins for anxiety attacks than other causes. Kate Spade's tragic demise came as a shock to many of us and the realization that we need to look after ourselves too.

I admire the way Ulta took ownership of their faux pas. Thanks for the post, Liz. There are takeaways for us as business owners too.

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