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Beauty Brand Breakdown: Vacation - The World's Best-Smelling Sunscreen

Beauty Brand Breakdown: Vacation - The World's Best-Smelling Sunscreen Thumbnail

Diving into the Waves with Vacation: A Brand Strategy Exploration

As a seasoned expert in beauty brand strategy, my journey through the intricate world of beauty marketing continues to uncover how brands position themselves within the fiercely competitive landscape. This blog post embarks on an analytical expedition into Vacation, a brand that reimagines sunscreen with a delightful twist of nostalgia and innovation. With a keen focus on branding, marketing narratives, and the strategic placement of products in the contemporary market, I aim to unpack how Vacation captures the essence of endless summer days and positions itself as a memorable player in the suncare category. Unlike traditional reviews, my approach is to critically evaluate Vacation's public persona and online presence, which serves as a primary interface for engaging potential customers in today's digital-first consumer environment. Join me as we explore how Vacation crafts its identity, appeals to consumer sensibilities, and carves out its niche in the bustling world of sunscreen and after-sun care.

Vacation Classic Whip Sunscreen

Introduction to Vacation Sunscreen

In the ever-evolving landscape of suncare, Vacation sunscreen emerges as a brand that masterfully blends nostalgia with innovation. With its roots deeply planted in the ethos of leisure and the golden era of sunbathing, Vacation revives the quintessential charm of the 1980s sunscreen experience, updated with modern formulations that meet today's standards for protection, sustainability, and skin health. Their products not only aim to protect the skin from harmful UV rays but also to evoke the joy and relaxation of a beach holiday, making sunscreen application an anticipated part of the daily routine. Beyond their eye-catching, retro-inspired packaging, Vacation emphasizes a commitment to high-quality ingredients, offering broad-spectrum protection that is as kind to the skin as it is to the environment. As a brand, Vacation stands out not just for its aesthetic appeal but for its ability to fuse a sense of fun and nostalgia with the serious business of sun safety, making it a noteworthy contender in the competitive suncare market.

Vacation 80s style sale ad campaign graphics

The World's Most 80’s Sunscreen

On top of boasting about having The World's Best-Smelling Sunscreen, no one can deny it’s the most 80s sunscreen out there. The brand has such a clear personality that’s honestly rare to see, and I don’t say that about a lot of things since I look at literally thousands of beauty brands. You can tell that a lot of care is put into making the brand look as 80’s as it possibly can, any posts about sales or announcements of new products or new retail partners are presented in spot on perfectly executed 80’s style ad graphics. Some might find the packaging design of Vacation kind of eclectic and all over the place, but the red thread is how just completely all in they are on creating the most 80’s looking designs that somehow still come off as looking clean and contemporary. The designs are more like an idealized version of the past, the 80s as we remember it, not as it actually was. If you take a closer look the design is quite clean, most products have just one color for all typography and graphical elements. Take their SPF 30 Baby Oil for example, it’s just monochrome brown packaging with pink text matching the pink cap, it even uses a modern sans serif font! But the layout of the typography and the way they present the product still makes it look super 80s. The same thing goes for their website, it’s the 80’s as we remember it, websites in the 80’s looked nothing like that if you actually think about it. It’s an idealized nostalgic image of the 80’s that is the consistent face of Vacation.

Vacation After Sun Fragrance Marketing Campaign

The World's Best-Smelling Sunscreen

“There’s no better way to instantly elevate poolside lounges to a paradisiacal place of bliss than through the power of scent. With this in mind, Vacation® collaborated with Carlos Huber of ARQUISTE Parfumeur and Rodrigo Flores-Roux, the renowned perfumers behind Cire Trudon and Clinique’s Happy, respectively, to create “the world's best-smelling sunscreen scent.” The resulting fragrance of the Vacation® Classic Lotion, the Vacation® Air Freshener, and, of course, “VACATION,” the Vacation® Eau de Toilette is nothing short of a summer teleportation device…”

I love it when brands credit the specific people that are putting their expert talents into making the brand what it is. It also shows the thought and care that was put into developing their iconic fragrance.

Vacation Lip Desserts with SPF 30

Hawaii Reef Compliant Act 104 & Dermatologist approved

“Formulas developed in line with the Hawaii Reef Compliant Act 104 and in conjunction with Dr. Elizabeth Hale, Board Certified Dermatologist & Chief Medical Advisor to the Vacation® brand.”

Again, here they are naming a specific people’s contributions to making the brand what it is, humanizing the brand. While there is still not a consensus on certain sunscreen filters being more or less harmful to reefs, rather than pushing a fear mongering agenda and further perpetuating misinformation the tone Vacation takes on this topic feels more like aiming to reassure vary consumers that they are taking the issue seriously. Both being in line with Hawaii Reef Compliant Act 104 and being Dermatologist approved both serve the same goal of assuring their customers that they are not taking the issue of environmental protection and skin safety lightly.

Vacation Arizona Iced Tea SPF 30 Lip Balms Collaboration Marketing Campaign

Sunscreen with its own radio station

“Vacation® brand sunscreens come standard with Poolsuite FM and other leisure-enhancing amenities conveniently accessed by QR codes on product packaging.”

This is just vibes. I’ve been listening to Poolsuite FM while writing this article and it’s really the perfect 80’s vacation soundtrack. This just helps contribute to the image of the brand. A lot of the brands presentation reminds me of elements you will see in the visual aesthetic of Vapor Wave, which takes a lot of inspiration of 80’s consumer aesthetics. A motif you can often see in vapor wave is Arizona Green Tea, which makes the collaboration Vacation did with Arizona Iced Tea feel so perfect.

Vacation SPF 30 Baby Oil Marketing Campaign Graphics

The CleanClassic™ Approach

“Vacation® uses our proprietary CleanClassic™ formulation process to update everything that you love about sunscreens of the past with the best of modern skincare science. That means we use tried and true ingredients that have been proven to work and that also follow the modern, clean beauty guidelines set by leading beauty experts.”

I don’t keep my skepticism around clean beauty secret by any means, but this is not the worst approach to take. They are letting consumers know that their products meet the general clean beauty standards. Though I’m not sure what the exact standards they are referring to are, I talked more about this in my article about The Clean Beauty Conundrum. They are not saying other brands use harmful chemicals or proclaiming to be non-toxic at least, which is better than what I can say for a lot of brands. Brands actual stance is shown more by their actions than their words, and you can see that Vacation is not totally aboard with Clean Beauty considering they offer both Chemical and Mineral sunscreens, which I think is the right choice for them.

Impressive eggshell (virtual) business card with garamond typeface

Become an honorary Vacation employee

Instead of just having a regular membership program, Vacation allows you to sign up to become an honorary Vacation employee.

Claiming your honorary role at Vacation grants their customers valuable insider perks such as:

  • Staff only merch

  • Preferential treatment at Poolsuite FM and Vacation Events

  • Earn exclusive items

  • Career boosting title for your LinkedIn

  • Impressive eggshell (virtual) business card with Garamond typeface

This works perfectly with the theme of the brand and feels a lot more fun than just signing up for an email list to get 10% off your first purchase. It gains the brand more buy in from consumers and makes them more invested in the brand as a whole since they feel a part of something, like they are in on a joke. Though this is a great strategy for Vacation I would caution other brands to just copying the idea, since it just works because it’s perfect for Vacation. Instead take inspiration and try to think outside of the box and figure out what unique strategy would work for your own brand.

Vacation Chardonnay Oil

Does Any Information Seem to be Missing?

The information on Vacation’s website is quite comprehensive. They also have a great FAQ page with very straightforward and helpful answers. They also have some rather unusual questions at the bottom Brand Section.


Why is Ray Smith from Sales & Accounting so incredibly good looking?
The simple answer is many wonderful years of consistent use of Vacation® brand sunscreen; the technical answer is… science. Ray Smith, the legend, is the result of a fictitious longitudinal study conducted by the Institute of Leisure Sciences (ILS). The goal of the study was to understand the effects of Vacation® brand sunscreen on human physical attractiveness. 57 years and roughly 630 gallons of Classic Lotion SPF 30 later Ray Smith, the most important person at Vacation Inc., and the most aesthetically-enhanced version of our favorite Jimmy Buffet impersonator, was born as we know him today. He's a treasure to us all. We're lucky to have him, and he deserves more credit for the company's ongoing success.”


This is some barely comprehensive in-joke, I’m not sure what they are talking about honestly. Why is Ray Smith from Sales & Accounting so incredibly good looking? Experts say yes. I love it, it just adds to the brand personality. Another great questions featured:

Is this real?
Such a profoundly philosophical question is due a thorough lecture on metaphysics. But we like to keep things simple here. So yes, Vacation® is a real brand developed by real people who are passionate about making sunscreen fun. This, of course, entails champagne-popping marketing campaigns, sun-soaked stories about our fabled headquarters in Miami, and a deep fascination with ‘80s summer culture. So we answer this question, with a question of our own: what even is real? To which we can firmly answer: Vacation® brand sunscreen. Yes.”

What I like about this question is that I can see people coming across this brand in the wild not knowing if it’s a real brand or if it’s just some kind of spoof with how committed to the bit Vacation is. They give an answer to this question without even breaking character.

80s style graphics announcing that vacation will now be available at bloomingdale's and target respectively.

Is Vacation a Successful Brand?

From all the signs I can point to, my short answer would be: yes. Vacation has performing great on social media, on my latest list Top Skincare Brands Trending on Instagram February 2024 they are ranked # 56 (+15 from previous month) and on my Annual Instagram Ranking for 2023 they were ranked # 57 (+40 compared to their 2022 rank). So, they are steadily moving up in ranking on Instagram. Beauty Matter reported in May 2023 that Vacation closed a $6 million Series A funding round and that they expected to hit $20 million in retail sales by the end of 2023. They’ve had 400% growth in sales year over year since their summer launch in 2021. The brand has also been very popular with retailers both large and small. They’ve been rolled out to 1200-plus Ulta Beauty retail locations and recently launched at Target. I think it would be hard to argue that Vacation is not a very successful brand.

Instant Vacation browning lotion "the new way to tan" marketing campaign

Final Thoughts

In the kaleidoscopic world of beauty brands, Vacation emerges not just as a purveyor of sunscreen but as a cultural phenomenon, masterfully weaving the essence of leisure and protection into a single narrative. Through its meticulously crafted 80s aesthetic, commitment to quality formulations, and novel consumer engagement strategies, Vacation transcends the conventional boundaries of product marketing to create a resonant brand experience. The brand's success, underscored by impressive growth metrics and social media traction, attests to the power of a cohesive and imaginative brand strategy that speaks directly to consumer desires for authenticity, nostalgia, and joy. The brand's ability to maintain a clear, consistent identity while engaging consumers on multiple levels demonstrates a blueprint for success that is as much about the art of branding as it is about the science of sunscreen. Vacation's journey from a concept to a beloved brand encapsulates the essence of what it means to not just sell a product, but to sell an experience—a reminder that in the world of beauty, the most memorable brands are those that invite consumers into a story that resonates well beyond the shelf.


Portrait photo of Jennifer Carlsson, short neon green hair and rainbow colored eye makeup
Jennifer Carlsson
The Beauty Brand Expert

I'm Jennifer Carlsson, a 30 year old strategy consultant, competitive market researcher, data analyst and designer from Stockholm, Sweden. I know more about more beauty brands than anyone else and I'm an expert in what it takes for beauty brands to succeed.
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