The great thing about asking consumers questions is that you always learn something you couldn’t have imagined. Who knew, for example, that some people are so unwilling to be seen wearing reading glasses that they carry restaurant menus into the bathroom to read them under bright light in private?
We recently conducted a survey for Bausch + Lomb to understand the reasons why people do and don’t wear reading glasses and contact lenses as they age. And it turns out that, for women 45+, their answers to these questions were a lot more complicated than we thought.
The simple act of putting on reading glasses makes women feel old – and it makes them feel almost as old as wearing the wrong clothes or hairstyles. While about 60% of our survey respondents said that frumpy clothes or haircuts could age them, 40% also said that simply wearing reading glasses could do the same thing. Wearing readers makes them feel older even than wearing the wrong shoes or makeup!
I thought reading glasses might arouse positive feelings. After all, they allow people to connect better with the world around them. But it turns out they are the Rodney Dangerfield of products: they may be essential, but they can’t get any respect. Thirty-two percent of women who wear them actually feel “annoyed” by having to wear them in public.
Life presents a number of unpleasant choices as you age. Reading gets frustrating (especially reading labels and smaller text), but the solution – wearing reading glasses – also frustrates. What’s a poor 45 year old to do?
One of the places where weak eyesight creates the most frustration is in restaurants, where dim lighting requires reading assistance but the public setting makes glasses embarrassing to use. Our survey taught us that women will go to greater lengths than I would have guessed to avoid using reading glasses when ordering food.
Some respondents (37%) will simply squint, hoping they can read what the menu says. Another 25% will ask to borrow a companion’s glasses, implying that they don’t really need glasses themselves, just this one time, because it’s so dark. Ten percent will ask their date or other person to order for them, meaning they would rather seem old-fashioned (and passive) than old. Four percent will ask the waiter to randomly select his own favorite dish for them. And a few of them said that they actually will excuse themselves, go to the bathroom, put on their reading glasses, and read the menu in private. Really.
For marketers, this research reminds us that simply providing useful products – even products (like readers) that almost everyone uses as they age – doesn’t always make people happy.
Physical conditions that start at midlife create embarrassment and confusion that is different from conditions that start earlier in life. If you always needed glasses, you know all about your options because you’ve been dealing with the condition for decades. But if your eyesight grows weaker only because of age (the condition itself is called presbyopia), you don’t know about your options, and you don’t necessary know how normal the condition is. Bausch + Lomb tackled this combined challenge with the website called www.goodbyereaders.com.
Of course, presbyopia isn’t the only physical condition that grows worse as otherwise healthy people approach 45. And it’s certainly not the worst. But the way people react to it reminds us that it’s not enough just to provide products that make life easier. You need to provide information about the products, and you need to provide it in places and ways that don’t just enhance their negative feelings about them. When you succeed, you’ll sell more products, and Boomers eating in dimly lit restaurants will be free to order whatever they want.