Interview: Specsavers on ‘attention-based’ brand activations, influencer innovations & a social first mindset

Recently, optical retailer Specsavers generated significant buzz on social media by staging a unique experiential out-of-home stunt.

The campaign, which involved a branded van positioned atop a rising bollard, accompanied by a strategically placed warning sign near the “accident”, was developed by the retailer’s internal marketing agency and formed part of the brand’s famous ‘Should’ve Gone to Specsavers’ campaign, marking one of the initial tasks for Lisa Hale, who serves as Head of Consumer PR, Social Media, and Brand Activation at the company.

Upon joining the company in 2019 as Head of Social Media, Hale faced the challenge of revitalising the campaign, which debuted in 2003, for social media platforms.

Her approach involved tapping into viral trends, cultural moments, and everyday scenarios to ensure relevance across all demographics and platforms.

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“Our approach is attention-based. Today, we’re inundated with advertising. As a marketeer it’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking people care, or even see your ads, when in fact, the majority are becoming blind to them,” Hale tells Mobile Marketing Magazine.

So, how does Specsavers not only attract attention but also maintain it long enough to convey a meaningful message that resonates?

According to Hale, who has been with the company since 2019, this challenge becomes even more significant when the message is more complex than a simple call-to-action like “try this product.”

She notes: “We have rich purpose-led stories to tell at Specsavers, that centre around a commitment to care and expertise as well as our founding vision of making ear and eye care accessible to all – to tell these stories we need eyes-on.

“Earned-led thinking helps generate that cut through as it’s about adding value to people’s media consumption, rather than just adding to it.”

On integration for impact

According to Hale, a hallmark of Specsavers’ strategy is the seamless integration of consumer PR efforts with broader marketing initiatives.

As a result, Hale highlights the evolution from siloed marketing functions to a fully integrated approach where consumer teams work hand-in-hand with marketing teams to tackle business challenges effectively.

“It’s important to lean into the right channels dependent on what the business objective is – sometimes Consumer PR, social and brand activation play a small role, sometimes it leads the comms,” she states

“We’re known for ‘Should’ve Gone to Specsavers’, and whilst it’s such a brilliant platform for us to bring to life, such as our Best Worst Team campaign, this ‘publisher/story-telling’ mindset plays a more important role for us when the objective is perception change around expertise or access to care – as this is where we need more time with consumers.”

On mobilising mobile marketing

The optical retailer leverages mobile marketing strategies to engage with its audience and drive brand awareness across platforms, Hale reveals.

From paid search to mobile-only assets and innovative campaigns, Specsavers aims to maintain a presence across all devices.

Hale says: “We know the online world is highly competitive and attention is difficult to maintain, which is why we’re always exploring new ways to reach people through mobile marketing.

“Paid ads rarely hold on to the attention they’re aiming for, leaving a shallow impression that doesn’t always translate into an effective outcome. You need to partner it with that earned/attention-focused mindset to generate results, which is what our strategy has been focused on for the last few years and will continue to prioritise going forward.”

Meanwhile, according to Hale, the company adopt a social-first mindset for a lot of its comms.

“We want to reach consumers in ways that feel natural to them, so regardless of the type of activation, we’ll look to see if there’s a way of making it live online,” she states.

On partnerships for progress

Recently Specsavers launched a new branded obstacle course game and virtual merchandise giveaway on Roblox, which was launched to mark the its to educating younger generations and continued steps into the gaming space.

“The Roblox partnership felt like a natural way to highlight the link between healthy eyes and ears, and better gaming. Gaming is such a huge industry and opportunity, but one we must enter carefully and in the right way,” Hale notes.

“Outcome-wise, we want this to be the first of many ways we can be a part of the conversation amongst this audience, and ultimately, over time, educate the younger generation how they look after their eyes and ears so they can feel better – and play better.”

However, she adds, the partnership is a “key part” of Specsavers’ future-proofing approach.

Speaking about engaging hard-to-reach audiences who are potential future customers, Hale explains these audiences “have higher demands of brands – they expect more – so we need to get in front of them, in the most authentic way possible, as early as we can.”

On influencer involvment

Influencer marketing forms a core part of Specsavers’ strategy, emphasising authenticity and long-term relationships over superficial endorsements.

Hale claims: “We tend to be more selective when it comes to working with macro influencers – rather than just working with them for the sake of it to create yet another ‘commission paid’ or #Ad that pushes a product or service.

“When working with macro influencers, we’re also looking at longer term, sustained relationships like the work we’re doing with Digital Creator and Fashion Editor, Alex Stedman, who has curated her edit of Specsavers glasses.

“As someone who is a massive glasses advocate already, it was a natural and expected collaboration. Alongside social outputs, we’ve organised events with Stedman and worked with her on-trend-led PR outreach, so it’s been a fully rounded long-term activation.”

Specsavers also created the ‘Style Squad’-  a set of micro-influencers who support the brand with content creation and, while they each have lower reach individually, the Squad provides “us with sustained, frequent, highly engaged and above all, trusted, reach”, Hale states.

On embracing AR and VR

From remote access for IT support to online frame styler tools, the brand already embraces digital innovations to provide customers with immersive and convenient solutions.

“This means our optometry and audiology specialists can remotely access and troubleshoot machines, including PCs and medical equipment, which guarantees there’s minimal disruption to in-store operations and ultimately helps to improve our customer experience”, she explains.

Meanwhile, Hale hints that the brand is exploring how it incorporates more VR and AR into its in-store experience and has “some exciting developments in the pipeline for 2024”.

On future focuses

Looking ahead, Specsavers envisions a future where AI plays a pivotal role in marketing while maintaining a human-centric approach.

Hale underscores the importance of attention metrics and predicts a shift towards AI-based solutions for measuring and optimising brand engagement.

“Standard predictions remain – a shift towards AI, surfacing purpose and sustainability messages that speak to the more conscious consumer, as well as developing holistic measures of success for brands,” she says.

However, more pressing than ever in this digital-first world saturated with advertising, is the need for marketers to understand the power of attention on general brand consideration and the impact high levels of attention have on bottom-funnel ads, she reveals.

“We will hopefully see a drive towards encouraging platforms to help marketers find a solution to buy, creatively activate and measure against deep (not just shallow) attention metrics.

“This will also result in a rise of AI-based attention predictions which will allow marketers to measure attention at scale,” she concludes.