VM's EIC Marge Axelrad: How Many Ways Can a Major Media Report on Eyewear Get it Wrong?

By

At my count, about 60. I don’t have room in this space to list the misleading messages and examples of the tones of innuendo that I believe characterized the now infamous “60 Minutes” report on “Sticker Shock: Why Are Glasses So Expensive?” that was broadcast to millions of television viewers on Oct. 7.

And was then relayed and extrapolated via social media for days afterward. And that is still rippling through many optical businesses right now, prompting questioning from consumers, explanations of “yes, but..” from thousands of moderate to high-end eyewear dispensers and eyecare professionals. And is prompting new, energetic advertising campaigns from value-end optical retailers like Wal-Mart.

Yes, Luxottica is a big, influential and complex, vertically-integrated company. Those of us involved in the industry know that. And apparently “60 Minutes” was intrigued by that. But those of us in the industry also know that the numbers and reality of the business reflect a different picture than the one that the show seemed to insist in portraying, “backed up” by one SmartMoney “expert” whose information was old and out of date.

One company does not own “every outlet” or “serve every American” or “set prices” for thousands of other outlets. Does Luxottica influence the business? Yes. But that is not the same thing.

The bigger challenge presented by the report is this: The very diverse and complex eyewear and eyecare market is a business and a health care system that touches more than two-thirds of Americans, from low-income consumers to the upper income echelon, generates some $32 billion a year, and is composed of some 30,000 independent eyecare practices, opticians and boutiques, a range of regional and national chains, hundreds of frame designers, licensed brand manufacturers, factories and production companies, ophthalmic lens engineers and developers, laboratories, R&D experts and distributors.

The report didn’t attempt to reflect diversity, so intent was it in making its point about “no choice.” In fact, the narrative voice of Lesley Stahl stated, “After all, all eyeglasses are the same, still made of a couple pieces of plastic or wire, some screws and glass.” Really?! Ouch.

It was a disappointment, this opportunity for such a high-profile, national broadcast platform to have been able to convey information about eyecare and eyewear to so many viewers…and then miss the mark.

Perhaps there will be another way, via the collective, re-energized messaging to the consumer about eyewear, eyecare and its real value that can emerge in the aftermath of this “60 Minutes” broadcast.

maxelrad@jobson.com