'They Systematically Decimated My Brand,' He Alleges

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CINCINNATI ( -- Angered by a Procter & Gamble Co. decision earlier this year to at least temporarily
Photo: AP
'I won't be buried,' said Vidal Sassoon as he filed suit.
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discontinue marketing the shampoo, conditioner and styling products bearing his name, legendary hair stylist Vidal Sassoon today filed suit against P&G alleging systematic neglect, mismanagement, sabotage, fraud and breach of contract.

"I feel betrayed," Mr. Sassoon said in a statement. "I trusted one of the world's most powerful marketing machines when they assured me that my name represented a billion-dollar brand. Instead, they systematically decimated my brand. ... It represents more than 50 years of my professional life. I won't be buried."

'Contractual prisoner'
In his suit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Mr. Sassoon alleges he is a "contractual prisoner" and seeks an order requiring P&G to sell the brand name back to him.

"This is a cautionary tale for any entrepreneur whose brand is their name," Mr. Sassoon said. He originally licensed his brand name to Richardson-Vicks, but P&G took control of the license along with the rest of that company in a 1985 acquisition. Mr. Sassoon said P&G has refused his efforts to buy back the brand out of fears that his brand "could effectively become a competitor in the hands of capable marketers."

The suit said global sales of the brand reached $470 million in 1995, after which "P&G squandered the hard-earned equity." He said P&G instead directed its efforts toward Pantene, another Richardson-Vicks brand on which, unlike Vidal Sassoon, it paid no royalties.

Without merit
A P&G spokeswoman said the company is "disappointed" by the suit, which she said is without merit. While P&G has discontinued the hair-care products brand in North America and Western Europe for now, it continues to license the brand name for such hair-care accessories as dryers, combs and brushes.

P&G also continues to market the full range of products in Asia, where, according to Mr. Sassoon's suit, Sassoon is P&G's best-selling hair-care brand.

The P&G spokeswoman said the company is "developing ways to better manage the equity" of the brand and may well reintroduce the shampoo, conditioner and styling products in the U.S. and Europe. Such a move is not without precedent. After pulling the plug on Clairol's Daily Defense brand in the U.S. last year, P&G currently is relaunching it, albeit as a value brand priced at under $1 a bottle at retail and without current plans for media advertising.

$25 million campaign
P&G's last attempt at restoring the brand, styled VS Sassoon, to its former glory in the U.S. came in 2000, as P&G took the brand upscale with sleek black packaging and a $25 million-plus ad campaign from Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. But the brand had lost more than 75% of its annual U.S. sales by the time P&G said it would discontinue it in January.

"Through a program of neglect and outright denial," according to Mr. Sassoon's suit, "P&G has turned the highly successful brand bearing the world-renowned name of the creator of a beauty revolution into the filler of bargain basement close-out bins."

A P&G spokeswoman wouldn't comment on specifics of the suit. But under P&G's returns policy with retailers, the company provides incentives for them to sell discontinued merchandise in their stores rather than accepting returns and re-selling the products through close-out retailers.

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