OFFENSIVE ADS WORTH POKE IN THE FOR EYES

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Twenty-five years ago, when the AdReview staff was still a boy, we discov ered a tiny, discount optician on Pine Street in south Philadelphia. Run by a cou ple of congenial, myopic hippies, For Eyes Optical was the symbiosis of capitalism and the counterculture. In attitude and price and even its word-playful name, For Eyes flipped the bird at the somber, price- fixing guild opticians who had long domi nated the industry.

Well, 90 stores and many millions of dollars later, it is clear that the hippies were as farsighted as they were myopic. And the AdReview staff has stayed loyal. The eyeglasses you see to your left, as well as the handsome metal frames that replaced them, and at least a dozen pairs before them, all came from For Eyes.

Not anymore. In introducing its first-ever TV campaign, For Eyes has again sought the synthesis of commerce and ideology with five 15-second commercials that combine sociopolitical commentary with basic price advertising. The results, courtesy of Beber Silverstein & Partners, Miami, are appalling.

Picture please, to the accompaniment of New Age music, a gritty, b&w image of a man prostrate on a city steam grate wrapped in a blanket. Then a shot of a man sleeping on the sidewalk. Then one scene of homelessness and despair after another, leading to this superimposed message: "If you've become used to this, you need glasses."

It looks like your standard PSA, but then comes the kicker: a product shot of For Eyes glasses, plus logo and a female voice saying, "Choose two pair for $79. See clearly."

Another spot depicts two young people playing a sick version of the rock/paper/scissors game in which the winner picks up a gun and fires at the loser. This time the type says: "Parents who don't lock up their guns need glasses," whereupon the voice-over adds:

"Designer frames with single-vision lenses start at $69."

Bifocals extra. Liberal manifesto included.

Having courageously weighed in against homelessness and children being shot to death, For Eyes does not stop there. The Miami-based company also rails against oil spills, drunken driving and the soaring national debt. Other, more light-hearted, spots are planned, perhaps to take on such other controversial targets as nuclear war, ethnic cleansing and the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome-tinting at no extra charge.

We can't fault the sort of enlightened Ben 'n' Jerryism that exploits the glory of market economics without sacrificing a sense of humanity. We just wish the company would keep its banal high-mindedness to itself.

In the same way that we don't care what Tom Cruise thinks about the environment just because he's a matinee idol, we have zero interest in For Eyes' take on gun violence just because it has a good selection at low prices. We're rather given suddenly to despising the company for its presumptuousness, pomposity and unbecoming condescension.

Moreover, each half of the message undermines the other. In the context of these didactic minilectures, the otherwise perfectly legitimate price claims suddenly are rendered shamelessly crass. Meanwhile, the unspeakable tragedies of homelessness, violence and neglect, when framed as gimmicks to sell cheap eyewear, are trivialized in the extreme.

There will be a backlash, beginning with the company's most loyal customer. If not for its blinding zeal to be visionary, this is an outcome that For Eyes-without benefit of optical or political correction-would clearly see.M

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