That's Not a Dirty Coffee Cup, It's an Ad

Sephora Campaign Promoted Store Opening With Well-Placed Lipstick Smear

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NEW YORK ( -- Some New Yorkers patronizing street vendors for their morning boost of caffeine are being handed the coffee in a white cup -- smeared with a bright pink lipstick mark near the rim.
The dirty imprint on the cup was part of a campaign to promote cosmetics retailer Sephora's latest New York store opening.
The dirty imprint on the cup was part of a campaign to promote cosmetics retailer Sephora's latest New York store opening. Credit: Hoag Levins

Makeup retailer
The promotion, hyping the latest store opening of makeup retailer Sephora, is a relatively inexpensive way to gain attention in a market where it's particularly hard to cut through all the outdoor clutter. But could it risk grossing out consumers and causing the effort to backfire, especially because it's part of a campaign about beautifying the market called the "New York Pretty"?

Sephora, which created the ad in-house, has not received any negative feedback from the campaign, said Allison Slater, VP-retail marketing. "You realize pretty quickly that it's not a dirty cup," she said. The imprint isn't on the exact top of the rim, so it's not intended to look exactly like someone had drank out of it, she said.

Manhattan financial district
Coffee cups worked with this particular store opening, because the location is in Manhattan's financial district, where people work long hours and drink coffee, she said.

"No one ever wants their clients or future clients to be grossed out but you definitely [want to] get their attention and got to break through the clutter with something unique and creative and fun," Ms. Slater said. The campaign was first implemented in Seattle with no complaints, she said.

PromoMedia Concepts, which produced and distributed the cups, however, did hear some apprehension from a few coffee vendors. But there was no major backlash, said Evan Topilow, director of marketing.

Does it stand for the brand?
"I think it has a lot of stopping power," said Jose Reyes, partner and creative director at Turbulence, an advertising agency in Miami, "I'm just questioning if it's a brand that stands for ultimately making things more beautiful, because there probably was a more effective execution of that."

The 250,000-cup campaign in New York cost Sephora around $18,000, according to Mr. Topilow's estimates, was launched at the end of April and was intended to last one month. Print ads also ran as part of the "New York Pretty" campaign in telephone kiosks and on billboards showing a woman's face in makeup and iconic visuals of New York such as the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building.
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