Dark & Lovely is attempting to reclaim its place with the African-American shopper as the beauty industry pushes toward inclusion and diversity.
Last week, the 47-year-old hair-care brand, which sells a line of at-home relaxers and hair color for black women, launched the first phase of a rebrand with a focus on Gen-Z and millennial customers. Complete with an updated logo and new outer product packaging, as well as product expansions within its Fade Resist hair-color and relaxer franchises, the L’Oréal-owned company is calling its next phase “Dark & Lovely & [fill in the blank].”
“Dark & Lovely is an iconic brand within the African-American community, and we have had long-lasting and strong relationships with our consumer. We know she is unapologetic about her beauty needs, and we knew we needed to step up and evolve,” said Kristen Blandon, vp of marketing at SoftSheen-Carson, which is subsidiary company within L’Oréal USA’s multicultural beauty division.
Dark & Lovely is facing increased competition from newer and buzzier entrants that are capturing attention from younger African-American customers such as Tracee Ellis Ross with her brand, Pattern Beauty, that can be found at Ulta and Briogeo that is sold at Sephora. Pattern Beauty, specifically, has directly gone after the curly and textured hair consumers with both product and social media content. Experiential touchpoints like Essence Fest, too, which were once dominated by African-American-first brands, have seen traction by brands like DevaCurl and and Estée Lauder that are putting inclusion front and center.
Though Dark & Lovely has some penetration with 20-somethings, its broader customer base ranges up to women in their 70s. Blandon reported that its average consumer changes her hairstyle 30 times a year, proving there is a significant repeat purchase opportunity.
To tease the product and repackaging piece of the campaign, the Dark & Lovely team first tested products with Howard University students this fall, and at the same time, it rolled out the new imagery on its Instagram channel and an updated Softsheen-Carson.com website. Despite its social media focus, Dark & Lovely does not have its own standalone e-commerce site. Through Softsheen-Carson.com, customers can link to retail partners selling the brand through e-commerce. Dark & Lovely is sold in 77,000 mass stores such as Walmart, Dollar General and Family Dollar, as well as Amazon.
As such, the aforementioned partners will be key for Dark & Lovely’s updated look and messaging. In the first quarter of 2020, the company will roll out updated displays and signage in these stores to better help consumers find products and to conduct in-store sampling. Other African-American brands like Black Opal have already begun trying to tap young, black female shoppers this way, as well as with Instagram-UGC campaigns.
Maya Brown, head of marketing for Black Opal Beauty, previously told Glossy, “If a regular person sees themselves in our products and imagery, that is a win. Women of color have always been our positioning, and customers will feel like Black Opal is made for them.”
Dark & Lovely is a major portion of L’Oréal’s “sharing beauty with all” pillar, and the brand, like Maybelline and NYX Cosmetics, was called out in annual results for being a driver of the parent company’s $13 million net sales in its consumer products division. Still, according to Euromonitor International data, Dark & Lovely’s rank within hair care (No. 53) remained flat between 2013 and 2018. While it has seen growth within the perms and relaxer category over the last five years, from No. 3 in 2013 to No. 1 presently, that segment is particularly challenged, seeing losses of 31% over the same time period due to the cultural push toward natural hair.
Still, the company is not deterred. “The Dark & Lovely & campaign is to focus on what is next for the brand and what is possible for us,” said Blandon. “Maybe these younger customers know Dark & Lovely because of their mothers. We don’t have that one-to-one relationship with her yet, but we do want to.”