Mrs Moneo and myself seem to have set most of our various insurance policies and utilities contracts to renew in August or September. Each year our hearts sink slightly as the reminder notices come in and we realise we have the annual battle with the companies to get the best deal possible. This year we decided that we would start by visiting one of the online comparison sites. I am pleased to report the whole process seemed to go more quickly and smoothly than in previous years and, as promised by the site, we did certainly achieve some savings with outcomes we were happy with.

It was only after we had ground our way through the processes that Mrs Moneo, in reflective mood, asked me why I had chosen the comparison site that I did. In reality I hadn’t initially given it much thought but as I reasoned why I realised that it was because of the resounding subliminal voice in the TV advert. I found this quite intriguing as I would normally say I was not swayed by all the various bits of gimmickry these adverts display. As I then considered each of the adverts, I could now recall I noted that some of the TV adverts and their methods had annoyed me so much that I felt I would not trust them or have faith in their judgement on my behalf. Others seemed to blend into obscurity and therefore I just could not recall them when I needed to.

I suspect you are thinking, ‘what has any of this to do with optometry?’ My experience with the way these companies have structured their advertising suggest it may well have a lot to do with optometry. As we work our way through the unlocking of everyday life, the way our town centres work and the way people access services have clearly changed radically. Traditionally many optometrists, especially the smaller ones, relied on service users’ word of mouth, or personal recommendation. In recent years we saw the rise of the optical retailers who were well rehearsed in the world of commercial and retail advertising. We also witnessed the massive expansion in online communication to consumers. Who nowadays does not have a website, Facebook or Twitter account for their business? It is essential to communicate with our users but what my recent experience has shown me is not the need to communicate but what methods we use to communicate.

It is very evident to me that it was not the clever, or possibly irritating, overt messages that attracted me and gave me confidence but something more subliminal and possibly insidious. In reality it was the communications that had funny straplines or pithy catchphrases that sat in my mind for all the wrong reasons. Meerkats sliding round on robotic vacuums, opera singers appearing out of context, stone statues being decorated by seagulls; yes, they are all memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. They may have made me laugh or cringe but what they did not do was instil in me a feeling of confidence and trust in the company. Often what may appear to be a funny advert turns out to be just that. But, does it achieve the aim it set out to? Persistent use of straplines will eventually gnaw into the very substructure of life in some circumstances but I can really only think of one organisation that has done this in optometry.

Talking to members of the public about what they want to see from their healthcare specialists nowadays it is evident they need reassurance, both as to the quality of care they will receive, and, far more importantly to some, how safe they will be when visiting the practice or shop. Interestingly, a number of people I have spoken to have said they would not visit an optical ‘shop’ because they are not comfortable with retail shops in general but they would be happy to visit a professional optometry practice as they feel safer in that environment.

The point here is that it is now more vital than ever to communicate with our communities but it is the message we send and how we send it that is important.

People want serious messages nowadays. They want reassurance. They want to know that where they are going for their eye examination is responsible and they can feel safe. These are the messages we need to be sending. Fun, gimmicky adverts that may have made people laugh in the past are not what people want nowadays. In fact, while they may be memorable, those sorts of adverts may well cause irritation and annoyance and sit in people’s minds as a source of
negativity and just may well serve to highlight all the reasons why they should not use that particular outlet.

Communication is important but the way we communicate will have a fundamental bearing on the success of that communication. It is only through my own personal experiences recently that I have come to realise just how important this is.