Specsavers translates its British wit for Canadians

The U.K.-owned eyewear retailer kicks off a $10 million investment in Canadian marketing alongside a plan to open 200 stores in two years.


U.K.-based Specsavers is hoping an irreverent approach to its first integrated marketing campaign resonates with Canadians as it begins its expansion across the country.

Specsavers is the world’s largest network of optometrist-owned eyewear retailers. That is a key element of its new campaign, in which sensual and mellow music plays over close shots of people in their eyewear. But the brand’s humor is combined with its optometrist-backed expertise with voiceover lines like instead of eyes being the window to the soul, they’re actually an early sign of retinal disorders.

“The soulful retro 70s vibe allowed us to be playful and humorous, tapping into nostalgia but bringing it up to date with a vibrancy and contemporary feel,” says Catherine Walsh, director of marketing, Specsavers Canada. “In Great Britain most people have grown up with the brand and know to expect our signature wit and charisma,” adding that the challenge is to attract new business here, and that it’s doing so with a wide-reaching, attention grabbing campaign.

With a total investment of more than $10 million in markets across Canada this year, the first wave of the integrated marketing campaign will run today until April 30 in British Columbia. Specsavers entered the Canadian market last November when it acquired Vancouver-based Image Optometry, with plans to open an additional 16 stores across the province by May.

The timing of the campaign coincides with last week’s announcement that Specsavers intends to open over 200 locations in Canada by 2024, including a $100 million investment to cover optical store start-up costs for optometrists looking to open a Specsavers clinic and store.

But beyond the expansion, Walsh explains that the company typically sees peaks in demand in the fall when it starts getting darker earlier and people realize that they are struggling to see: “a deterioration in eyesight is often the trigger for people visit an optometrist or buy new glasses, but the high cost of glasses can often act as a barrier.”

Walsh says Specsavers’ core values remain accessibility, affordability and quality, and that personal connection with trained eye care professional is what the brand aims to reflect in its marketing and communications. That’s also a differentiator from brands like Clearly, which is among the brand’s biggest competition when it comes to fast-expanding eyewear retailers in Canada.

With COVID, Walsh says it did initially see a reduction in the customer numbers across markets as a result of restrictions. But since then, and despite ongoing restrictions, numbers have bounced back strongly as pent-up demand from customers who put off their eye exams comes through.

The spot was developed for Canada by Specsavers’ in-house creative team. The campaign will include 15-, 30- and 45-second videos across social media and TV, as well as radio, print, OOH and DOOH ads. It also includes in-store signage, digital banners, organic social media content and public relations, and will expand to other markets in Canada as Specsavers enters new provinces.

In addition, to support the company’s marketing efforts, it is airing TV spots on Sportsnet Pacific during Vancouver Canucks games, sponsoring the “Closer Look” segment that taps into the high-drama moments of the game where vision is key, such as coaches’ challenges and goal reviews, Walsh explains.

In 2021, Specsavers selected two new agencies of record for Canada. Media Experts manages media planning, strategy and buys across all channels, while FleishmanHillard HighRoad provides public relations, social media and event support.

Specsavers has always had an in-house agency which has been highly effective over the years, and Walsh says the “Should’ve Gone to Specsavers” tagline has become part of everyday vernacular in the UK.

“It’s not an automatic decision to go in house when we enter a new market, and we often work with local creative agencies as part of a matrix structure,” Walsh explains. For the Canadian launch, it brought Canada-based creatives into the team to give it a combination of in-house brand understanding and local market knowledge.