It was early 1994, and For Eyes Optical Co. was unveiling another campaign of very pointed 15-second spots, heralded by the agency at the time, Beber Silverstein & Partners, Miami, as a groundbreaking synthesis of brand advertising and social responsibility.
For Eyes, a Woodstock-era company founded in funky south Philadelphia by two (believe it or not) hippie opticians, wanted to find a way to express its corporate self not merely as an advertiser, but as a caring, committed citizen. And so its agency filmed gritty images of desperate, homeless men loitering in a city park. Superimposed were the words: "If you've become used to this, you need glasses."
Then the product shot and the voice-over: "Two pairs for $79."
Yep, in this generous spirit of Ben-and-Jerryism, For Eyes was the first advertiser to juxtapose heart-wrenching human tragedy with attractive discount pricing.
It was not merely a first. It was also probably the worst commercial ever made.
Imagine our curiosity then, 5 1/2 years later, at the news that For Eyes once again was in the 15-second-spot business. What this time?
As it turns out, no. The discount eyeglasses retailer clearly has accepted that it is OK-even in a tragic, imperfect world-simply to advertise discount eyeglasses. It's even OK to hire help nobody will ever confuse with, say, UNICEF.
DeVito/Verdi is the class clown, notorious for commercials that make a blunt point quickly, not with social consciousness but with caustic humor. CarMax, Daffy's clothing, Super Crown books and others have used the identical formula: a series of jokey, low-budget 15-second spots to hammer home the message, usually with a simple visual gag, and often enough with dubious taste and/or sensitivity.
For instance, consider the gritty, verite spot this agency once did. It was for Britches Great Outdoors, the now-defunct clothier. It showed a casket being loaded into a hearse for interment. The message: "You're going to be wearing a suit for a lonnng time. Dress comfortably while you can."
So naturally we wondered how the campaign would look. Yet, lo and behold, the For Eyes work is neither overly sensitive nor underly tasteful. Goofy, yes. Crass, not at all. Each spot shows someone entering the scene wearing a nice pair of glasses, but with a gigantic, yellow-cardboard price tag dangling from the temple.
In one spot, a woman in a restaurant knocks over glassware with the outsize tag that reads $269. In another, a guy trying to pop the question to his girlfriend inadvertently sets his price tag ($275.95) aflame with a candle. In the third, a guy clobbers everybody on an elevator with his dangling tag ($349) as he tries simply to go from floor to floor.
The voice-over: "Remember, glasses with a big price tag make you look kind of stupid."
Big price tag. Get it?
It's a stupid, obvious gag, but it's a very smart stupid, obvious gag. Because For Eyes sells one pair starting at $60, two pair for $99 and offers 60% off on designer frames. And this campaign will help sell a lot more of them.
Whereupon the founders, should they so choose and without making complete fools