What do the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bulls, esports team Golden Guardians and Broadway musical “Tootsie” have in common? Their glasses.
Each of those entities has struck a deal with Zenni Optical, a 16-year-old online optical retailer that has just started to flex its marketing muscles in the past couple of years.
The name Zenni, conceived by co-founder Tibor Laczay, is meant to be a mashup of Zen, with the “ni” added to give the brand more of a fashion feel. Until recently, Zenni was quiet about sharing its story, largely relying on marketing such as online searches, digital ads, some social media and a mix of TV spots.
“While we have over 26 million pairs sold, we’re still largely anonymous to the eyewear shopper out there that has not been either a customer or touched by some of our latest marketing efforts,” Sean Pate, brand communication officer, says on the latest episode of the Marketer’s Brief podcast.
The starting price point for a pair of prescription glasses on Zenni is $6.95, with an average price of $40, says Pate. The starting price is about 90 percent less than the average retail cost, he says.
“We need to establish the credibility behind the brand as well as the exposure,” says Pate.
Zenni is now the official eyewear partner of two legacy professional sports teams with fans well beyond their home markets. In 2018, Zenni signed a deal with the Chicago Bulls that includes a brand patch on all of its jerseys. And earlier this month, Zenni announced a deal with the San Francisco 49ers that includes marketing such as having the upper deck of Levi’s Stadium being named the Zenni Zone. The team’s players were fitting with Zenni’s Blokz glasses with blue-light blocking lenses. Other plans include having the team appear in outdoor ads in the region and passing out Zenni sunglasses at games to appeal to 49ers fans, known as the Faithful.
Beyond traditional sports, Zenni has a deal with Golden Guardians, a League of Legends team owned by the Golden State Warriors. The idea here is to promote eye protection for gamers who spend hours looking at screens. And Zenni glasses are part of the disguise worn by the main character in “Tootsie” the musical. Zenni also sells a "Tootsie" glasses collection online.
Zenni was founded in 2003, seven years before Warby Parker, an optical brand that’s become almost synonymous with online eyewear and is known for glasses starting at $95. More recently, Warby Parker has expanded into physical stores and offers eye exams. Zenni, though, seems set to stick to online. Flagship stores may make sense for Zenni, but for now, its focus is online and at some pop-ups, such as at music festivals, says Pate.