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Specsavers: 2014 IPA Effectiveness Awards Shortlist Interview

Analysing 30 years of advertising, including its long-running ‘Should have gone to Specsavers’ concept, that has delivered a ROMI of 1.29:1.


Q1. When and why did you decide to launch a campaign?

TO: “There was never a specific brief for ‘Should have gone to Specsavers’ (SHGTS) as a campaign.  In 2002 we were reviewing scripts.  Within one, there was a line that tripped off the tongue particularly well…

“I don’t think any of us realised that something that was an effective by-product of an unrelated piece of communication would become such a significant and enduring piece of communication in its own right.

“We’re lucky to have a fantastic creative team who – crucially ­– are in-house. The fact that ‘Should have...’ was truly home-grown makes it an even stronger property. We share the same enthusiasm and we’re all fiercely protective of it.”

Q2. How did you feel about the original brief?

MP: “The original brief, I fear, has been lost in the mists of time. But I’m certain it was a brave one. Specsavers has always been a trailblazer in its industry – the first to offer transparent pricing, the first to advertise, the first to push a brand message through TV, and the first to embrace humour to promote a professional service – that’s always struck me as a particularly courageous leap, and one that has come to define the brand.”

Q3. How hard was it to get the campaign signed off?

TO: “Not hard at all.”

MP: “Having an in-house creative agency certainly helps. The relationship between the creative team and the client is hugely collaborative and every decision is taken at face value for its contribution to the business, not to further the agency’s reputation.

“A lot of credit has to go to the stability of the marketing set-up. For instance, Graham Daldry, who first came up with “Should’ve…”, has been in charge of the creative team for more than a decade (how many ECDs can say that about a client?) and Tim Orton, Director of Marketing Planning, has been with Specsavers since 1995 – before even their first brand TV ad!”

Q4. When and how did you first know that you had been successful?

TO: “There are a few measures we can use.  First, the very notable upturn in our spontaneous and specific cut-through brand tracking scores (TNS) from mid-2003. 

"Second, the slow but steady acceptance and use of SHGTS as a common term by people other than us in various different ways.  It feels like we’ve introduced something playful for general use:  “Here’s something called SHGTS, it’s so easy to apply; now go and have some fun with it” and as we discover (and sometimes we wish we hadn’t…) people readily do. 

“The campaign is also incredibly powerful internally.  Our business success is down to the joint venture partnership system by which we operate, and being able to produce enjoyable and memorable advertising on an ongoing basis (which helps attract customers!) genuinely fosters huge positivity among our store directors.”  

Q5. What was the biggest challenge in demonstrating the effectiveness of your work?

TO: “We’re relatively big spenders in UK media and advertise somewhere 50 out of 52 weeks of the year, plus have an ongoing customer recall mailing programme.  So it’s difficult to isolate the truly unique effect of SHGTS and what it’s worth. 

“Fortunately, we have some very smart people on our account at MGOMD who were able to rise to this challenge and produce the results shown in the IPA Awards submission.  A separate measure of effectiveness would be to show evidence of usage of SHGTS by others…which is a lot easier.”

MP: “From a media point of view - isolating the effect of advertising when you’re live on TV almost every week of the year! Fortunately, we had many years’ worth of detailed data to crunch and some distinct periods of advertising, which has really allowed us to unpick the value of different creative approaches (hint: a good idea can be worth an awful lot of money!)”

Q6. How did this campaign compare to previous campaigns by the brand and competitors?

TO: “Our previous campaigns were individual bodies of work – each of our offers had its own tone of voice and look, with only our logo as the identifying mark.  SHGTS has introduced a unifying and recognisable thread to our work.

“In my opinion, SHGTS gives us a huge competitive advantage.  I think rivals have struggled to find their own identity and even when they have introduced humour into their work most people would associate it with Specsavers.”

MP: “What we’ve been able to show is the sheer power of the “Should’ve…” idea above and beyond maintaining a dominant share of voice. While I guess we always suspected it, it’s shown what a fantastic engine of growth it has been for business success.”

Q7. What lessons did this campaign teach you?

TO: “When you have a winning idea, you have to keep it alive by constantly innovating.  True creativity is all about constant reinvention.  It can be hard…but thankfully there are times when a situation is just tailor-made for us.”

MP: “It’s really a live case study about some of the fundamental truths in advertising:

- That advertising can be a fundamental building block of a successful business

- That simply spending money on advertising can lead to success, but having a great idea makes this more effective

- Treating communications as a vehicle to maximise the fame of this idea, however, leads to the greatest business success.”

Q8. What were the low points/high points of this campaign?

TO: “It’s easy with hindsight but the period where we dropped SHGTS was a low point.  The motive for doing so was sensible – to try and introduce a more positive statement - and ‘Must have gone to Specsavers”’ (MHGTS) was our attempt to do that.  It also allowed us to feature great-looking glasses in our ads. 

“It didn’t cut-through as much as the previous material but there was at least some benefit in that people generally thought we were saying SHGTS anyway!  The further move away to the situation where we had neither SHGTS or MHGTS was perhaps even more wayward.

“That makes identifying the high points easy.  It was when SHGTS was reintroduced, in late 2007, and the series of ads (whether in broadcast, print or digital) that have run since then. 

“It is, furthermore, a great cause of pride that when introducing myself to people and explaining my role, the vast majority will immediately quote SHGTS, reference one of our ads (“I really like the one where…”) or tell me of their own SHGTS moment.” 

MP: “With hindsight, moving away from the original “Should’ve…” idea in 2006 might not have been the best idea.

“But some really valuable lessons were learnt, and it’s come back stronger than ever, generating more than double the return of the previous iteration with some of the most memorable creative executions. As long as we’re set up to learn, even low points can be enlightening.

“For me, a personal high-point is hearing customers gleefully recount the little stories within the TV ads. It gets me every time and reminds me that advertising can still be witty, warm and sociable.”

Q9. What would you do differently if you did this campaign over again?

TO: “I wouldn’t move away from SHGTS. That said, doing so helped reinforce in our minds the strength and enduring nature of the line. 

“But technically the campaign hasn’t finished, so we have an ongoing opportunity to fine tune it, or find new executions. 

“Digital obviously gives us a brilliant opportunity to react quickly to events and communicate a SHGTS twist. However it manifests itself, the trick is to use SHGTS wisely and cleverly. Too much wanton application of it will dilute the wit.”

MP: “As the IPA paper describes, it’s been a learning process, always seeking to understand how the communications were helping to drive business success.

“As such, it’s always been slightly experimental. Perhaps if Specsavers had got more caught up in ad tracking and pretesting ideas rather than going with their well-honed instincts, it may not have been such a success.”

Q10. If you could have worked on one, other IPA award-winning campaign over the years which would it be, and why?

TO: “The one I’d have been keen to read about was the launch of the BBC iPlayer (2008), simply because it’s a brilliant product.”

MP: “I’m particularly jealous of DDB’s “Thirty Years in the Making” for VW Golf (Gold – 2006). It shows the huge benefits of sticking to a strong central idea, the primary job of communications as building fame and treating advertising as a long-term business investment. In many ways there are strong parallels with the themes of the Specsavers story.

“Quite honestly, though, with ‘Should’ve Gone to Specsavers’ I’m so fortunate to have worked on such a universally loved idea and brand – the kind that so seldom comes round in advertising today – and with clients who really get the power of advertising as an engine for business growth rather than an inconvenient cost to be minimised.”

Last updated 09/09/2014

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