Nobody discusses their Photorefractive Keratectomy over a coffee with friends, or in their facebook chatter asks whether to have Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis. Neither do they say “LASIK changed my life”, which most in our industry will know is the abbreviated form for the latter. They simply talk about ‘Laser eye surgery’. Do they know how it works? Not at all. But they know the difference it will make to their lives despite the risks they openly discuss on social forums. Agreed phraseology over social media and efffective communication between patients and the industry has helped to create a global ‘laser eye surgery’ industry worth in excess of $3.5bn.

No mention of ‘Photorefractive keratectomy’ – just laser eye surgery

Similarly, in the 1950’s, Dentin Hypersensitivity was discovered and in 1961 Sensodyne developed a toothpaste for it. However, it was only when the public understood that they had ‘sensitive teeth’ and were able to communicate this with their friends, family and, ultimately, their dentist, that demand for, and supply of ‘Sensitive toothpaste’ to meet that demand, started to grow. The marketing was simple: you have ‘Sensitive teeth’. No mention of Dentin Hypersensitivity. The rest is history, a global market worth over $1bn.

No mention of ‘Dentin hypersensitivity’ – just sensitive teeth

SELLING THE SIZZLE, NOT THE SAUSAGE!

What else do the laser surgery and sensitive teeth marketers have in common? They sell the ‘sizzle’, not the ‘sausage’.

Laser surgery vox pops and imagery are all about lives transformed by people no longer shackled to glasses or contact lenses. They don’t dwell on how it is done because, quite frankly, the public choose to ignore the idea of someone cutting into their eyes with a laser gun!

Sensitive toothpaste adverts don’t get much further than a paid model with an ice lolly or mug of something hot either wincing in pain or smiling as their new dreamed of life, free from pain, has begun. No one cares how it works, we get the rough idea.

Ultimately, with both laser surgery and sensitive toothpaste, not long after purchase customer nirvana is reached, the dream is achieved … no glasses, eat ice cream, life is great again … happy customers recommend it to others. The industry grows.

ORTHOKERATOLOGY | ORTHO-K | ORTHOK – THE “SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE” MAGIC CONTACT LENSES!

A few years ago, a magic contact lens that would give my short-sighted teenage son 20/20 vision during the day without the need for glasses or contact lenses, was suggested to my wife and I. It was called Orthok.

Written down ‘Orthok’ read as ‘Or’ ‘Thok’, which sounded odd (only those in the know pronounce Orthok as ‘Ortho’ ‘K’). It was followed by a big medical term –  Orthokeratology – which is both a hard word to say and remember – 2 of the biggest ‘no no’s’ in marketing. The reason Photorefractive Keratectomy never stuck.

When we researched it further we were met with loads of other names like Corneal Reshaping (sounds like surgery + permanent?), CRT, Nocturnal, No7, dream this, sleep that and lots of pictures of veiny eyes, light focusing, blurred images and confusing descriptions of how it worked. My initial customer experience was one of mass confusion

A lot of Ortho-K marketing is scary (your eyeball changes) and confusing (a tough biology lesson for many)

“So, it’s a specialist medical device…”

Not only did it sound too good to be true, but it also sounded like a hard clunky specialist medical device for kids with serious problems, the ORTHOdontic train track metal smile being the obvious similar ORTHOkeratology comparison. The idea of putting an ‘Ortho’ device in my self-conscious teen’s eye to ‘correct’ his eye by ‘changing the shape of the eyeball’

(a) sounded more dangerous than laser surgery and
(b) really didn’t appeal!

However, my wife decided to give it a go, as we trusted our OD / Optometrist. And I do what I’m told by my wife.

And … it was the best thing we ever did.

My son’s eyesight had tanked, losing 1D per year. By the time he got into night lenses aged 13 he was -3.75D and -4D. They changed his life. No, that’s not enough. They absolutely, 100%, transformed his life. He went from a happy, confident, sports-mad, 10 year old kid to a lost soul at big school who gave up sport, lost confidence, sat at the front of the class and broke our hearts. He’s now 16, happy, confident, an accomplished surfer (a sport that was impossible for him when he couldn’t see the waves) and an amazing lad taking on the world. Best of all, his myopia has stabilised and he now has a lower risk of eye disease later on in life as a result. As a parent I would have paid anything to make this happen. To achieve this cheaper than laser surgery but in a safer format (it’s reversible) and for a similar cost to daytime lenses, was incredible.

Benjamin: “night lenses changed my life … I can open my eyes under water, no beach sand in the lens issues … freedom!”

MY SON CALLS THEM NIGHT LENSES. WE CALL THEM NIGHT LENSES

Back to the point. He naturally calls them night lenses. We, as parents, naturally describe them as night lenses to others.

Call them ‘Ortho-k’ and it’s immediately a specialist lens.

Call them a ‘night lens’ and it’s no longer specialist, it’s a mainstream lens which is opposite to daytime lenses. One you wear during the day. The other at night. Simple.

I asked OD/Optometrists about this. The answer: “yes, people colloquially call them night lenses”.

Yet the industry keeps calling them Ortho-K or by the brand names. The result is mass confusion and extremely low interest-to-conversion.

TIME TO SELL THE SIZZLE, NOT THE SAUSAGE!

Unlike laser surgery and sensitive teeth where they sell the sizzle, not the sausage … we’re still selling the sausage, attaching unnecessary importance on the ‘special’ lens and trying to teach ABC orthokeratology to people who, quite frankly, don’t care. They just want a rough idea, to know that it’s harmless, but to understand the sizzle – how it will change their life. Similar to laser surgery, the messages are the same and the case studies are compelling. It sells itself if we don’t get in the way of it and if we don’t force it into the space where it sounds medical and unappealing. And voodoo magic.

I believe there’s an amazing secret hidden in plain sight:

Put simply, my 16 year old son walks around with normal clear vision, no need for glasses or contact lenses during the day – and people can’t believe it.

It’s a compelling story that can be explained in a simple way. It’s cool, it’s innovative, it’s 100% on-trend.

It’s the most exciting thing to happen in eyecare in decades
… but we seem to have missed that point.

Put simply, there are 4 options for eyecare:

  1. Glasses
  2. Day lenses
  3. Night lenses
  4. Laser surgery

A simple narrative. Night lenses are no longer off the list as a special medical device. They are a very normal option, the contact lens that you wear at night as opposed to during the day.

Night lenses as a Myopia control device option?

With all the big players entering the space, 2021 is a great year for Myopia Control.

There are 3 myopia control options for children:

    1. Myopia control glasses
    2. Myopia control day lenses
    3. Myopia control night lenses

Simple. UK OD / Optometrists I’ve spoken to who explain this choice of 3 to patients are finding it easier to describe the options to parents and, crucially, are feeling more like a health care professional offering patient choice and less like salespeople selling a product.

Could night lenses become the ‘next big thing?’
(an equal player on the world stage as opposed to a niche product?)

I asked my son, now 16, if he would ever go back into glasses. Like many, of which I was one, he had a bad experience of glasses as a child.

His reply? “No chance!”

I then asked him about using day lenses when he was older. As a reminder, he has no concept of day lenses, only knows night lenses:

Benjamin: “So, how do they work? I put them in my eyes when I wake up right? And then take them out at night?”
Me: “Yes”
Benjamin: “What do I do when I go surfing?”
Me: “You take them out”
Benjamin: “How do I see?”
Me: “Prescription goggles, you don’t wear them or you keep your eyes closed”
Benjamin: “What!? So any time I want to go swimming I have to take them out or keep my eyes closed?”
Me: “Yes”

He spends a lot of time on the beach…

Benjamin: “What if I get sand in them?”
Me: “You have to deal with that and maybe take them out”
Benjamin: “And can they fall out?”
Me: “Yes”
Benjamin: “So, if it falls out when I’m away from home and I lose it, can I see without it?”
Me: “No”
Benjamin: “They sound weird. Why would anyone want to put a lens into their eye during the day?!?”

Benjamin surfing. This teenager only knows the freedom of night lenses. Putting a lens into your eye during the day, to him, is ‘weird’. Given the choice, he’ll never use day lenses, ever.

CHANGE IS COMING | TEENAGERS WHO WEAR NIGHT LENSES THINK DAY LENSES ARE WEIRD

Put yourself in the shoes of teenagers who only know night lenses, who only know putting a lens in at night and taking it out in the morning, a routine like brushing their teeth. Teenagers who only know normal, clear sight during the day, freedom without the need for glasses or day lenses, who don’t even feel they have a sight problem because they don’t touch an eyecare device during the day. Teenagers who think the idea of putting a lens into their eye during the day, thus destroying that freedom, is a weird concept. Why would you put yourself through that hassle if you didn’t have to? Weird.  I suspect he’ll wear night lenses for the rest of his life as naturally as people wear day lenses all their life.

We have a wave coming of young night lens wearers who view eyecare with a different mindset. The landscape is changing and an extremely valuable market is opening up.

THE GLOBAL ORTHO-K MARKET IS ABOUT TO EXPLODE

The global Ortho-K night lenses market is currently around 1.2% of the global contact lens market according to one study [Contact Lens Journal, August 1 2019]. That sounds a bit high to many. However, as we head towards the well-publicised 50% global myopia by 2050, massive populations like China with high percentages of Myopia are already seeing growth rates in Ortho-K that indicate a rising trend with significant value.

The impressive night lens growth in the Netherlands over the past decade is perhaps the market to look at. What do they call them in the Netherlands? Nacht Lens – translated as Night Lens. Below you’ll see how the big players refer to Ortho-K on their public facing material in the Netherlands and are now doing the same in the UK and elsewhere:


Menicon: usng ‘Nacht lens’ (Night lens in Dutch) for their Dutch audience


Menicon: using night lenses for their UK audience


Coopervision: using ‘night lenses’


Coopervision Misight: marketed as a Myopia Control ‘day lens’


NIGHT LENSES | COOL, INNOVATIVE, ON TREND – THE NEW ‘MUST HAVE’ THING

Over the next 5 years it is clear to see that night lenses are a device that is on-trend, new, cool, hits the sweet-spot for the Insta-generation and the environmentally conscious crossfit latte drinking young professionals on the constant search for a better lifestyle.

If the narrative is right, night lenses are cool, on trend and in the sweet-spot for the Insta-generation

Whilst 2 lenses into landfill per year rather than 730 is a pretty compelling reason to switch from daily lenses into comparably priced night lenses, the idea that the future of eyecare of having nothing in your eyes or on your face has arrived, puts night lenses into the must-have category of the Apple Watch. That makes it exciting. All the more reason to remember that the public talk about ‘laser surgery’, not ‘Photoreactive Keratectomoy’, so we should follow suit and deliver the life-changing sizzle that they want, not the medically unappealing sausage we are currently serving up.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Griffiths has recently joined Scotlens | Custom fit contact lenses as a partner in the Managing Director role.

Economist, creative, innovator and Sunday Times Top 100 Entrepreneur & Disruptor, Tom was the founder of gapyear.com, a very early social network.

Scotlens make a night lens device called the NOCTURNAL™ lens.