1-800 Contacts kicks off $12 mil national TV effort

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Using the remember-us-through-humor approach common in ads for fledgling Internet companies, 1-800 Contacts this month launches a national TV campaign designed to make viewers chuckle and then pick up the phone.

The $12 million image-building campaign is the first for the contact lens direct marketer from Saatchi & Saatchi, San Francisco, and breaks from its previous product-focused approach. Print also will be used.

"The advertising is designed to get your attention and be memorable," said Jonathan Coon, 1-800 Contacts president-CEO.

The company, which went public in February 1998 and began TV advertising that June, sells replacement lenses primarily via its toll-free number and Internet site.


The campaign targets women, who make up about two-thirds of contact wearers, and depicts women in uncomfortable yet comical situations.

One spot features a woman driver at a stoplight who sees a man picking his nose; another shows a diner at an elegant restaurant where the kitchen door swings open to show a chef picking food off the floor and putting it on a plate.

The tagline, "If you have to see it, why not see it for less," refers to 1-800 Contacts' positioning as a less-expensive alternative to the local eye doctor or a mass retailer.

Local optometrists and ophthalmologists are believed to account for about 70% of a $3 billion annual market for lenses, while mass retailers such as LensCrafters make up an additional 25%. Direct and Internet marketers, such as 1-800 Contacts rival Lens Express, account for the remaining 5%.


The market has grown substantially during the last decade as the market has shifted from traditional lenses replaced annually toward disposable lenses that are replaced weekly or even daily.

1-800 Contacts attributes much of its growth--with sales of $59.9 million last year, up from $21.1 million in 1997--to its decision to use TV.

The company said it spent $22.7 million on advertising in 1998.

Mr. Coon said that '98 effort resulted in calls going from about 5,000 a day to 15,000 to 20,000 daily within two months.

It expects to spend close to $20 million in advertising this year and may add an e-mail marketing campaign, executives said.

Copyright July 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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