LBB’s Addison Capper speaks with Specsavers Canada’s Catherine Walsh and Bill Moir and The Agency’s Shish Patel about leaning into ‘70s soul seduction and working with Prettybird’s Matt Piedmont to bring the brand’s signature wit to North America
Specsavers, the world’s largest optometrist-owned and -led business, which is particularly well known and loved in the UK and Australia, this week officially announced its Canadian expansion, initially into British Columbia. The move also saw the launch of its first ever marketing campaign in the North American country.
Titled 'That's Specsavers Love', the campaign is attempting to charm Canadians with a signature wit and humour that customers in other Specsavers markets know them well for (writing as a Brit, the brand's wry 'should have gone to Specsavers' ads are now a common part of cultural language).
The centrepiece of 'That's Specsavers Love' is a a 45-second spot created for Canada by Specsavers’ UK-based in-house team, The Agency. Prettybird’s Matt Piedmont, known for his Emmy-winning Saturday Night Live work, features and commercials, directed the film.
It shows people in a series of everyday scenarios with the camera slowly zooming in on their eyes as sensual music is playing in the background, amplifying the intensity of eye contact. “Some say that eyes are a window to the soul,” the VO says, as '70s soul swings in the background. "We say they're a window to early signs of retinal disorders". As director Matt says in the launch release: “Adding verve to your optic nerve, that’s Specsavers love.”
To get the full story on launching into Canada as a business and the creative campaign helping the brand to do so, LBB's Addison Capper spoke with Catherine Walsh, Canadian marketing director, Bill Moir, general manager of Specsavers Canada, and Shish Patel, creative director at The Agency.
LBB> When did plans to open in Canada first begin and why does it make business sense for Specsavers to do so now?
Catherine> We had been interested in entering Canada and were looking at various opportunities and avenues. We saw an opportunity for Specsavers to provide Canadians with real choice in value-driven prescription eyewear – alongside inclusive clinical care that is focused on eye health investigation and vision correction.
We’re entering the market with an ambitious goal to redefine accessible eyecare for Canadian consumers and become a market leader by 2024, with plans to open over 200 locations across the country by then. Just like in any market, our purpose in Canada is to change lives through better sight, and we’re really excited for Canadians to see the potential of our unique business model, and demonstrate what affordable, high-quality eyecare can be.
LBB> A lot of brands head to the States when opening in North America - why did you opt for Canada instead?
Bill> We’ve been interested in the North American market for a long time and have spent a lot of time understanding the culture and the market before we decided to enter it. There were a number of factors which meant that Canada was the right market for us.
Culturally, Canada is more in line with some of the other markets we already operate successfully in like Australia and the UK, where we are the market leaders. There are lots of different optical players already in the Canadian market, despite this we don’t believe that customers’ needs are properly being met. We’re seeing high prices being offered which leads to long purchase cycles and poor clinical care. This is something we’re keen to address by introducing our model of comprehensive clinical care and high quality, affordable eyewear so we can change the lives of Canadians through better sight.
We’re also seeing consolidation in the Canadian optical market, with a small number of large private equity backed corporates buying up independent optometrists, which is resulting in less choice for customers and less opportunities for independent optometrists and business owners to be successful. So, we’re keen to reverse that trend. We believe that the way to deliver the best patient care to customers is to ensure the independence and autonomy of optometrists, opticians, and retailers. So, we are creating amazing opportunities to enable them to own a thriving business, have access to cutting-edge technology and put their patients first, with our program to rollout 200 stores over the next two years.
LBB> How are you positioning the brand in the market?
Catherine> Our brand’s purpose, changing lives through better sight, is what we believe differentiates Specsavers from competitors in Canada. Optometrists Mary and Doug Perkins founded the business nearly 40 years ago because they wanted to provide access to high-quality eyecare to everyone. Our core values remain accessibility, affordability and quality.
Specsavers is the world’s largest optometrist-owned and -led business, and we want to get across that even though we are a global network that is able to support each location with the latest clinical equipment and technological innovation, as well as marketing and other resources, Specsavers is really your local eyecare shop that prioritises its immediate communities. Personal connection - the signature Specsavers human touch - is what we aim to reflect in our marketing and communications.
LBB> In the UK, for example, Specsavers is such an established brand, while other, newer glasses brands have entered the market. In Canada, you'll be the newer brand. How does this influence your strategy and approach, if at all?
Catherine> When we researched the Canadian market, we found the market was somewhat fragmented – there wasn’t a clear national market leader. We felt there was an opportunity to offer both optometrists and consumers an option for a globally reputable brand that can provide accessible and affordable, quality eyewear and eyecare nationally.
We believe the ‘That’s Specsavers Love’ campaign will appeal to Canadian adults of all ages and stand out among the sea of sameness we’re seeing from other eyecare brands, and our research also supports that. Specsavers is a household name in the 10 other markets in which we operate and are truly beloved. We’re confident that Canadians will fall in love with us too once they have a chance to learn more about the company, our expertise and our desire to provide quality eyecare and eyewear for all.
LBB> How does Canada fit in with your strategy of opening in other markets?
Catherine> This is Specsavers’ first new market entry in over 10 years and a very important one for us. We wanted to make sure the creative would speak to Canadians in a way that grabs their attention, while also showcasing what the company stands for and its purpose. To do that, we felt it was important to have unique, fresh creative for Canada.
The most important thing for us when considering new markets is whether we can deliver our purpose of transforming lives through better sight. We measure whether there is an opportunity to make quality eye care and eye wear more accessible and affordable to people through our model of delivering great care, great service, and great product through locally owned and operated stores. We see that opportunity here in Canada and it’s the criteria we use to assess other potential markets.
LBB> What was your starting point when it came to developing the launch campaign for Canada? What was the brief, so to say?
Catherine> Because Specsavers is new in town and not familiar to Canadian consumers, our challenge was to build a meaningful connection, and to demonstrate to people why Specsavers prioritises quality eyecare and affordable eyewear, not just that it does. We go to great lengths to make a positive difference to the lives of all, delivered with expertise and a human touch… That’s Specsavers Love.
Shish> We were really looking at what Specsavers is all about, the purpose of the brand in changing lives through better sight and really looking at the culture of the company, the people of Specsavers and the fact that their approach to what they do is quite unique. There's a real human touch to Specsavers' approach to eyecare, and you get a real genuine sense that they love what they do. That's where 'That's Specsavers Love' was born from: the personality of the brand and the experience of getting looked after by Specsavers optometrists.
While we were developing the campaign, there was quite a pleasant coincidence. At one point, a line we were working with was 'love at first sight. Our MD in Guernsey discovered an old press ad from the '80s with the headline 'with Specsavers, it's love at first sight'. It's been part of the company's brand and ethos from the beginning. It was a really cool, retro ad but everything it said was about human customer service and just being very caring. It felt very true to the brand now and what we were going for with this launch.
LBB> The campaign is really underpinned by the wit and humour that I (as a Brit) know Specsavers for so well. Why was it important to take this approach with Canada? But also, how did you tailor that wit to the Canadian market?
Catherine> It was important for us to tell the full Specsavers story – we’re serious about accessibility, affordability, and quality, but we also don’t take ourselves too seriously. Specsavers’ signature wit, charisma, humility and kindness resonated very well with Canadians. Canadians are also known for humility and kindness, and they love witty humour.
Shish> That sense of humour and wit is definitely part of Specsavers' DNA, and it's important to continue that. It certainly stands out in this category, including in Canada where we discovered that a lot of opticians advertising is very earnest and functional. Being emotional and making people laugh was definitely going to work over there and make us be distinct and intrinsically of the brand. In terms of the sort of sense of humour, Canadians and Brits are similar. There's an understated wit, a dryness and self-deprecation that we share, I think.
Something we found funny was the absurdity of blending the world of love and romance with the world of science and medicine. Jack [Finn] and James [Hearn], the creative team on this, did such a great job. Their first line, 'they say your eyes are the window to your soul, we say they're a window to early signs of retinal disorders', was just so silly with its juxtaposition and I immediately thought that there could be a whole campaign in it, the tension and absurdity of those two things together. That genre is quite ripe for humour, and it's been done well in the past, such as Vic Reeves parodying Barry White and Soul Train pastiches. We thought that bringing that whole world and aesthetic into the world of optometry would just be quite a funny clash.
LBB> I'm into the whole '70s seductive vibe - what inspired that? Tell us about it.
Shish> The way that we wrote it was very much a nod to spoken intros that are familiar from classic soul songs from artists like Marvin Gaye, Barry White and Aretha Franklin. The song in the ad is 'Love T.K.O.' by Teddy Pendergrass. But we wanted it to have a modern feel, and to make something that feels quite fresh, stylish and contemporary, but with a nod to the aesthetic of that world of '70s soul and R&B. We also took inspiration from the visual language of soul and R&B album covers with the styling, vibrant colours and hair, and then took that aesthetic into modern feeling, everyday situations with casting that felt relatable and of today as well. Having a vibrant colour palette also allowed us to incorporate our brand colour - green - into the campaign in a meaningful way.
LBB> Speaking of the casting, the three characters in the film are excellent - I'm a particular fan of the older guy at the end. The out of home is also strong. What was the casting process like?
Shish> The casting in the out of home and film is amazing. In terms of the film, it was quite a big ask for the actors because we were casting people that aren't doing a lot - all we're really asking them to do is look at the camera and then react with their faces to what's being said to them. Not many people can pull that off so props to Matt and his casting team for finding some amazing people. But you know when you see it because you feel it. If someone's looking at the camera and they connect with you, you just feel it straight away. That's how we got this cast - they just had the presence and could really take direction when they were hearing the VO in their audition. They could give the right look at the right time and make you smile.
Another thing that was important in the casting was that we really wanted to reflect Canadian people and the mix of cultures there. It's such a diverse country and we really wanted to tap into and celebrate that in the campaign. I'm really pleased with the people we found because they were a really good representation of the country, but also really captivating people in their own right.
LBB> Who is the VO artist too?
Shish> We went through a whole massive casting process for the VO too. It began as a male voice for a start, but evolved through the audition process. I guess the first thing you think of when thinking of that seductive voice is someone like Barry White or Marvin Gaye, and that's where it began as a script. But then we thought that might be a bit cliched, and as we started trying people out it just felt a lot more interesting, and gave it something a bit more when we found a female VO artist. The artist is an amazing comedian called Desiree Burch, who lives in London but is from America originally. She really owned that persona and did a really good job.
We recorded a VO that we then took to the shoot so that we had our actors responding to it on set. We thought it was really important to keep cuts to a minimum, especially when you first see that person. There's a long, lingering camera move towards them, and they're reacting in real time to what's being said to them. I think that makes them more powerful.
LBB> Why was Matt the right person to bring your vision to life?
Shish> Matt was the perfect fit really. I love Prettybird and Matt's comedy background is just amazing. He's an ex-writer for Saturday Night Live Yeah, mates with Will Ferrell, he directs comedy features, and he makes stuff look amazing. He's perfect for this because we wanted that cinematic look, but also the sense of humour. He's just got natural funny bones, it's not forced with him, and he's really great with casting and getting performances from people.
LBB> I love the set design and colour palette. You’ve mentioned the colour green, but can you tell us more about the overall aesthetics?
Shish> If you think of the famous 'should have' ads, they take everyday situations, find the humour in them and take them to an absurd level. That larger-than-lifeness feels part of the brand and we wanted to translate that into this campaign as well through the lens of that sort of '70s aesthetic. We tried to find scenes that are relatable, everyday moments, but elevate them. You've got a diner cafe scene, someone working in a garage, and someone in a bar, but with a feeling of cinematic presence.
I was blown away with the set design. It was shot in Lithuania and, again, props to Matt and his team because they did a great job finding a production outfit to work with over there. Obviously, we were involved in the production and pre-production process and seeing the sets being developed, but with Covid and not being able to meet people in person, you never know how it's going to turn out. But we were just really pleased that we had a good team of people working on this with us that just nailed things. They took our brief and elevated it. We weren't on set, we were shooting remotely and watching on a screen from a post production house in London. We saw that diner scene set up as the first shot and just thought 'wow'. They had Edward Hopper references in their mind when they put that together with the lighting and the shadow, and it just all really popped.
LBB> Aside from the film, what else is involved in the launch?
Catherine> We’re thrilled to be sharing this launch through 15, 30 and 45-second videos across social media, and television, a 30-second spot on radio, as well as print, OOH and DOOH ads. ‘That’s Specsavers Love’ campaign will also come to life through in-store signage, digital banners, organic social media content and public relations.
We are also working with our local National Hockey League team, the Vancouver Canucks, on TV spots on Sportsnet Pacific, billboard animation and a Closer Look integration. This is one of Canada’s first experiences with our ‘Should’ve Gone to Specsavers’ strapline.
LBB> Any parting thoughts?
Catherine> Ultimately this campaign is the introduction of Specsavers to Canada, and Canada to Specsavers. We wanted the campaign to make a great first impression. And if you are in Canada, we would love to see you – come by one of our new stores or visit us at Specsavers.ca.