Byline: Julie Naughton

NEW YORK — Does it hurt to mess with success?
Carson Products argues that it will only make its hot brand even hotter.
Carson, which owns Dark and Lovely, the best-selling ethnic hair care line in the U.S., is relaunching the brand. The company is repackaging and reformulating the brand’s two key products — its Permanent Hair Color System and its Relaxer System.
It’s been a year of change for the company, which in February signed an acquisition agreement with the U.S. division of L’Oreal SA, in a deal reportedly worth $250 million. However, conclusion of the deal has been delayed pending the approval of the Department of Justice, which is reviewing whether the acquisition will create a monopoly in the ethnic beauty market. Carson is reportedly the world’s largest manufacturer of ethnic hair and skin care products. L’Oreal acquired Carson competitor Soft Sheen — reportedly the world’s number-two brand — in 1998. L’Oreal, which has supplied the government with additional information for its review, extended its offer until July 14.
Dark and Lovely’s hair color system was originally introduced in 1972, while the relaxing system made its debut in 1978. Both are available in mass market, drugstore, food store and beauty supply store doors in the U.S. and in about 60 countries worldwide. The U.S. component of the relaunch is rolling out now and is slated to be finished by the end of the summer.
Both Dark and Lovely’s Generation 2000 Relaxer System and its Generation 2000 Permanent Hair Colour System have added a proprietary technology called Quadro-Conditioning. The system combines four advanced conditioners that work together to promote soft, straight hair in the relaxer system, while infusing maximum moisture and color in the hair color system.
The hair color system is now available in 16 shades, including the new Red Hot Mary, Deep Mahogany and Roasted Chestnut shades. The alcohol-free shades are a liquid-to-gel formula.
The packaging has also been updated to be more inclusive, said Shawn Tollerson, senior vice president of marketing for Dark and Lovely. “The new Dark and Lovely packaging is designed to better connect with African-American women of the new millennium,” she said. “The new hair-color packaging showcases the diversity of African-American women. Each shade group features a model with a natural hair style, and as always, we feature a variety of skin tones and hair textures. We also have a full-figured model on our Rich Auburn shade.”
The new packaging also includes two celebrity models: actress Nia Long and singer Mary J. Blige.
Long, whose latest film is the Martin Lawrence comedy “Big Momma’s House,” will appear on Dark and Lovely’s Relaxer System. Blige will be the face of Dark and Lovely’s newest hair color — which is, appropriately enough, called Red Hot Mary.
“Nia Long and Mary J. Blige embody the soul of the Dark and Lovely woman — she is proud, confident and real,” said Tollerson. “The star power on the boxes, in fact, is used to accentuate the power of the revolutionary Generation 2000 technology in the products.”
To kick off its new look, the company is sponsoring a contest called the Dark and Lovely Red Hot Mary Sweepstakes. Fans can win tickets to Mary J. Blige’s current concert tour, which runs through Aug.29. The Dark and Lovely brand is an official sponsor of the show. Carson also intends to launch a television, point of sale and print advertising campaign this month. Carson execs declined to give further details, although industry sources estimated that the campaign would cost upward of $5 million.
Carson, founded in 1901 and based in Savannah, Ga., posted worldwide sales of $176 million for the year ended in September. According to industry tracking firm Information Resources Inc., Carson’s products are among the top 10 brands in nearly all African-American hair care segments, including shampoos, hairdressing products, styling products, chemical service items, hair coloring, curl and wave maintenance, men’s styling, and children’s products. Besides Dark and Lovely, the company also owns the Gentle Treatment and Magic Shave brands.
Like L’Oreal, Carson has in the recent past been committed to growth through acquisitions, most notably through its purchase of Johnson Products in June 1998 for a reported $85 million. Through that deal, Carson gained control of the Dermablend corrective cosmetics business. Carson had also purchased the Let’s Jam hair maintenance brand from New Image Labs in April 1997 for a reported $5.6 million, and also in 1997 briefly owned U.S. and Puerto Rican rights to the Cutex brand.

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