Specsavers on evolving one of the most recognisable lines in British advertising
20 March 2022

Originally published on Campaign.

How the brand turned the 20-year-old TV gag line into a brand platform.

“Should’ve gone to Specsavers” has been part of our everyday vernacular for the past 20 years. So how do you evolve a long-running brand focus? After two decades “Should’ve” Specsavers put it to bed by now?

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” Nicola Wardell, managing director of The Agency, Specsavers’ full-service in-house unit, insists. “I’m often asked why we haven’t changed the platform or if ‘Should’ve’ has gone on for too long.”

But it is the virtue of having an in-house agency that keeps it going, she says: “Because no one has come in with a big fancy art bag, and a fancy pitch, saying this is what you need to do.”

Chris Carter, Specsavers’ marketing and ecommerce director for UK, Ireland and Spain, adds: “We thought, are we sure it’s right to go back to “Should’ve”? If we were here telling the same story that we were 20 years ago, I’d be concerned.

“The story has moved on so much. There are many stories to tell that are going to surprise a lot of consumers and make them think differently about what they know of Specsavers.”

Indeed, for more than 35 years, the family-owned business has been well-known for selling spectacles. But did you know Specsavers will come to check your hearing at home? Or that it can treat diabetic retinography or glaucoma? Since the first “Should’ve” emerged, the retailer/healthcare provider has evolved.

“All sorts of health-orientated services have come to the fore over the past five or 10 years that prompted us to look at what “Should’ve” would look like in 2022,” Carter explains. “It was an opportunity to tell a lot more of these different stories about the business and about the brand.”

Reinventing communications

Specsavers’ shift to more purpose-led advertising materialised during the pandemic, when it reinvented how the business engaged and communicated with its customers, so they could continue to receive essential sight and hearing aid.

“One of the big shifts for us was being able to tell the story of our patients, our customers and our colleagues in a way we had never before,” Carter recalls. “We ended up telling that story primarily through social media and didn’t do a lot of above-the-line advertising at all. We were telling a story every single day.”

Bringing forward the learnings it made during the pandemic, Specsavers hopes “Should’ve” will now help it to reach a broader audience than ever before, evolving the famous line into a platform that communicated the brand’s purpose of changing lives through better sight and hearing and can spotlight a growing range of services.

“Once we landed on the idea and got some initial creative thinking done with The Agency, we started work with our media agency, PR agency, social agency, our CRM and in-house digital teams,” Carter explains. “We said, here’s our creative platform, how would you bring this to life over the course of the next 12 months?”

At the heart of the launch campaign is a TV spot, supported by four shorts, set in a tower block. Directed by Ric Cantor, through Friend, the ad follows a delivery driver, who arrives to find the lift broken. As he hauls his huge package to the top of a tower block, The Proclaimers ballad I’m Gonna Be belts out.

He features in a number of comic scenarios, including mistaking an ambulance for his van, while Specsavers’ audiology service has its own “Should’ve” ad – a clip featuring a block of residents getting an unexpectedly large pizza delivery.

“Manning Gottlieb OMD, our media agency, presented a number of different ways of actually bringing this to life,” Carter says. “The first of those is going to be this mix up, where your channel announces the wrong shows.”

And so, in a media first, Channel 4 and ITV presenters experienced their own “Should’ve Gone to Specsavers” moments as their continuity announcers got their scripts mixed up, while introducing some of the biggest shows on television, but for the wrong channel.

But perhaps the most effective part of the launch campaign is a series of playful out-of-home featuring badly installed billboards – two in London and one in Leeds.

Created by Bertie Rapkin and Jon Morgan at The Agency, “Billboard Blunder” and “Dodgy Install” feature 48-sheet posters that have been installed in a humorously bad way, while another “Lost Ladder” shows a billboard poster’s ladder that has been accidentally pasted over.

Over 20 years the business has evolved and now so has the campaign.

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