People magazine ran an article in mid-September (2018) discussing some of the favorite brands of sunglasses worn by popular celebrities. There was nothing remarkable about the piece itself, but it did provide food for thought. For example, why do people prefer specific brands of sunglasses? How powerful is branding in terms of influencing people to purchase?
Few in the corporate world would argue against the strategy of branding. In fact, developing one’s brand has become a staple of modern business. But if you stop and look at sunglasses as functional products, it is apparent that a certain amount of deception – probably unintentional – is taking place here.
Hundreds of Brands of Sunglasses
Designer sunglasses are a perfect subject for investigating the power of branding. Take Italy’s Luxottica, for example. Luxottica is the single biggest entity in the global sunglasses industry. The company owns dozens of brands covering everything from Ray-Ban to Oakley. According to Business Insider, Luxottica brands dominate the U.S. market with a 60% share. That says nothing of their sales in other countries.
On the other hand, a U.S. company known as Olympic Eyewear designs and creates their own sunglasses sold under dozens of different brand names. The difference between Olympic and Luxottica is little more than price. Customers can buy an Olympic brand for a fraction of the cost of a Luxottica brand. Therein lies the rub.
Pretty Basic Technology
Any legitimate study of branding in the sunglasses industry cannot escape one fundamental fact: sunglasses represent pretty basic technology. A typical pair of sunglasses is made from a plastic or metal frame, a set of plastic lenses, and a small amount of hardware including hinges and screws. That’s about it.
Even more important is the reality that there isn’t much companies like Olympic Eyewear and Luxottica can do to improve the technology. Until someone comes out with a revolutionary material that replaces plastic as the primary material for frames and lenses, plastic will be the go-to choice.
With very little room for improving the basic concept, designers and manufacturers have to find other ways to compete. A good many of them go for style. But even styling options are limited. There are only so many shapes and colors to work with. Over the last hundred years we have probably seen every shape and color option known to man, multiple times over. So where does that leave Olympic Eyewear and Luxottica? Branding.
Loyalty to a Name
Although marketers don’t like to admit it, the stark reality of branding is that its sole purpose is to build loyalty to a name. Branding experts find ways to get people to remember and think of a specific name when they want a product or service. If they can generate loyalty to a name, it becomes that much harder for new players to win any meaningful market share.
To Luxottica’s credit, they were smart enough to start buying up popular brands beginning a few decades ago. Then they invested resources in aggressively promoting those brands. They did just what you are supposed to do from a marketing standpoint. As such, most of their brands have a loyal following among customers who will not buy anything else.
Fortunately, there is still plenty of market room for companies like Olympic Eyewear. Their brands appeal to people who want good-looking, designer sunglasses without paying hundreds of dollars for them. Olympic brands mean something different, something that appeals to a different customer base.
Branding is all about the name. Sunglasses prove it. Whether or not the deception of branding is unintentional is up to you to decide.