Establishing contacts

While there has been little in the way of technical progress in the contact lens industry over the past few years, there have been notable marketing developments.In a stagnant industry which typically sees as many drop-outs every year as contact lens...

While there has been little in the way of technical progress in the contact lens industry over the past few years, there have been notable marketing developments.

In a stagnant industry which typically sees as many drop-outs every year as contact lens converts, marketers have been grappling to find new ways of bolstering their market share.

Industry giants such as Bausch & Lomb of Toronto and Johnson & Johnson’s Vistakon division of Jacksonville, Fla., have begun advertising directly to the consumer as a way of increasing sales.

Bausch & Lomb recently launched its first Canadian consumer campaign.

Print advertising for the company’s Multi-Purpose Solution hit women’s magazines such as Toronto Life Fashion, Chatelaine and the Quebec Elle in May.

A campaign for its SeeQuence 2 disposable lenses followed in June, says Chris McAnerney, account director at Bausch & Lomb’s Toronto ad agency, Miller Myers Bruce DallaCosta.

It is a radical departure from traditional thinking on the part of the contact lens companies, according to many industry analysts.

Because contact lenses are a medical device, manufacturers have, until recently, advertised only to dispensers of contact lenses – the opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists.

However, when contact lens manufacturing newcomer, Johnson & Johnson introduced the first disposable contact lens to the market, followed up by a massive advertising campaign, it took the market by storm and the competition has been scrambling to catch up ever since, says the company’s contact lens marketing director, Craig Scott.

Johnson & Johnson has a stronghold on the disposable contact lens market.

The entire market is between about $65 million and $80 million, with soft lenses making up $37 million of that figure, disposable lenses $23 million and gas permeable lenses about $6 million, according to Bausch & Lomb’s vision care marketing director, Michael Peirce.

Disposable lenses are the fastest growing segment of the market, Peirce says.

The introduction of disposable lenses has allowed manufacturers to build brand loyalty for the first time, Scott says.

‘It took the mystery out of the contact lens market,’ he says.

‘Because patients are now walking out of the doctor’s office with their boxes of frequent replacement lenses, they now know what brand they are wearing, and they can tell their friends about it,’ he says.

And while the movement to disposable lenses has been given impetus, in part, for health reasons – doctors see less complications in patients the more frequently they change their lenses – it is also an effort by marketers to sell more product.

A sluggish market can be given a boost by getting wearers to replace lenses, more often than the old standard of once a year.

Yvan Sergerie, director of optic business at Mississauga, Ont.-based CIBA Vision Canada, says it is merely a response to the harsh reality of the market.

‘Many companies have had to re-evaluate and change the way they do business,’ Sergerie says.

‘It used to be that we were doing a good margin on the products,’ he says. ‘But it’s not as profitable as it used to be. Companies now are only working on volume because the margins and profits are not there anymore.’

David McGrath, disposable contact lens product manager at CIBA Vision, agrees.

McGrath says manufacturing efficiencies have reduced the cost of producing lenses and their prices to consumers have plummeted from hundreds of dollars to a few dollars.

That has lead to some novel marketing schemes on the part of contact lens manufacturers.

As Business Week recently reported, contact lens manufacturers market several brands with widely varying prices that have little or no technical variation.

For example, the article says Bausch & Lomb markets both a lens called Medalist, which wearers can use for up to three months, and SeeQuence 2, which is recommended for bi-weekly replacement. The lenses are identical but prices vary dramatically.

Wearers can pay anywhere from $7 to $9 per pair for the SeeQuence contacts, and $15 to $25 for the Medalists.

And Bausch & Lomb is not alone.

CIBA Vision markets Spectrum, a standard soft lens, and Focus, the same lens, which is recommended for disposable every month at radically different prices, according to Sergerie.

Should manufacturers charge different prices for the same lenses?

‘It doesn’t make sense to have somebody who’s buying 12 pairs a year paying the same price as someone who’s buying one pair a year,’ McGrath says.

‘There would be no reason to get them to switch,’ he says.

However, many industry analysts expect that soon nearly all soft contact lens wearers will move to wearing disposable lenses.

The real issue, then, is to get more of the 57% of the Canadian population which requires some kind of vision correction into the contact lens marketplace.

So far, 2.5 million Canadians, or 17% of those who need vision correction, wear contact lenses, according to McGrath.

And while Bausch & Lomb has begun wooing consumers through advertising following Johnston & Johnston’s lead, McGrath says CIBA Vision is still monitoring their success.

‘Consumer advertising of contact lenses is certainly going to play an important role in the future,’ he says. ‘But, it’s really in the infancy stage.

‘We’ll have to wait and see to what degree we can grow the market with it.’