Austrian opticians have launched a new awareness campaign, using television, radio and billboards, that pictures the eye as a high-tech life-time organ with a resolution of 130 million pixels, an auto-focus system and self-cleaning lenses. Run under the tagline ?Überlassen Sie Ihre Augen nicht einfach irgendeiner Brille,? (= Don't trust your eyes to just any kind of glasses), the campaign is intended to encourage consumers to continue to go to the optician in spite of the recent phase-out of health-related government subsidies for corrective glasses, in the footsteps of the German government.

The health reform last year led Austria's 3.4 million glass wearers to spend only €228 per capita on all kinds of eyewear, including sunglasses, down from €233 in 2004. The country's 1,105 optical shops sold a total of 1.33 million pairs of glasses, including sunglasses, and reached a total estimated turnover of €410 million.

As the country's national health system stopped its financial contributions for prescription eyewear, acting one year after the German government, 2005 was a tough year for the Austrian eyewear market. Sales of eyewear fell by an estimated 19 percent overall, with the specialized independent opticians witnessing a 24 percentage drop in their sales and the larger chains coming out better with a sales decline estimated at 14.5 percent.

Austria has over 1,100 optical retail outlets. Around one-third of the market is divided between Hartlauer, Fielmann and Pearle. Hartlauer is the largest chain, selling both optical and hearing equipment, while Pearle has 75 branches in the country. Fielmann is the only one to have made any gains last year during the crisis, thanks in part to six new store openings (see previous article).

Advertising is helping also the German opticians to override the crisis and to return to the consumption levels prior to the health reform. The national association of opticians, ZVA, has in fact launched a TV spot featuring a comic character called OPTI-MAN. The ad has been aired on the ZDF channel every Thursday and Friday before the 7 pm newscast.