Ulta’s annual Beauty Field Leadership Conference presents sponsors with a prime opportunity to get their products in front of more than 2,000 general managers, field leadership teams and business partners, and Paul Mitchell arrived at this year’s event, April 27-30, in San Antonio, Texas, prepared to grow partnerships—and trees. Leveraging a multisensory booth experience supported by augmented reality-fueled storytelling, the veteran haircare company planted its “Beauty with Purpose” sustainability messaging firmly in attendees’ minds while highlighting the newest products from its Tea Tree and Clean Beauty brands.
While modest in size, the secret garden-themed footprint was hard to miss with its overflowing florals and lush greenery (all hand-picked by the brand). Upon arriving at the booth, visitors encountered the floor-to-ceiling botanical elements, along with the sound of birds chirping and rushing water, all nods to Paul Mitchell’s overarching sustainability narrative. Scent machines were also strategically placed around the booth, pumping in the aroma of lavender, eucalyptus and evergreen—key ingredients in Paul Mitchell’s new Tea Tree Hemp product—simulating a forest bathing experience (the meditative Japanese practice of being immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the forest).
The brand was careful not to prioritize form over function, however. While visually striking, the booth was meant to be a platform for engaging and educating a targeted, beauty-loving audience around Paul Mitchell’s latest offerings, and sustainable and cruelty-free heritage.
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“Connecting with the store managers was super important, having that opportunity to interface and talk about the new brands that we introduced over the last two years,” says Bridget Kirby, director-visual merchandising at Paul Mitchell Systems. “So our goal was to celebrate these newer additions to the Paul Mitchell family and bring to life our heritage with a simultaneous real-life and digital experience.”
To that end, the booth experience featured three AR-driven touchpoints, supported by specific music tracks, and accessed via QR codes. One was a photo op that invited attendees to sit on a real, blossom-covered Vespa within the booth and snap a photo with an Instagram filter that showed them wearing a virtual floral crown and being transported to a field of flowers as the Paul Mitchell dove flew overhead. The installation underscored how Clean Beauty botanicals are grown on a biodynamic farm in the Italian countryside. There was also a selfie moment powered by a double-exposure effect that blended the attendee’s photo with natural imagery, a reminder that “we’re all part of nature.”
The main attraction was a realistic tree stump installation developed as an homage to Paul Mitchell’s commitment to planting one million trees by the end of 2022 in partnership with Reforest’Action. Attendees were invited to aim their phones at the stump and watch as a life-sized digital tree grew from the remains, effectively revealing the “secret” aspect of the garden experience.
“These days, it’s easy to have a pretty booth. You have to take that a step further and create a storytelling experience where your attendees can leave feeling like they’ve been touched, that they’ve been seen, that they’ve had a moment, that they’ve connected with your brand,” says Greg Bonhomme, director-shows and events at Paul Mitchell Systems. “We didn’t just want it to be, ‘Oh, that booth is pretty’ and attendees continue walking. We wanted them to be drawn in and then be given something to engage with.”
For the fabrication of the booth, Paul Mitchell walked the walked in terms of backing its sustainability ethos. A modular “kit of parts” approach to the build will allow the brand to transport it to a variety of events, with multiple configurations and floor plans possible, depending on the needs of the event. Or as Bonhomme puts it, “We’re not just thinking Ulta. We’re thinking: Where’s this going to go for the next two or three years?” Agencies: JJLA (creative, production); We Are Matik, Inc. (augmented reality).