Friday, June 19, 2015

EOL: Oakley Killed My Sunglasses

When a product is something that you wear or you use daily, it can be a bit distressing to suddenly discover that it's no longer viable. Imagine finding out your car was on it's last legs because they didn't make tires for it any longer. This is kind of what happened to me recently when I wandered into the Oakley store expecting to replace the scratched up lenses in my Half-Jacket sunglasses only to learn that the product that I had was no longer supported. The store didn't have any lenses left for them, nor did they have any at the outlet store in Milpitas. In a moment, I felt that deep sense of loyalty to Oakley eroding and yet another frustrated product blog post coming to the surface.

I have been a loyal Oakley customer since 1985. My first pair of Oakley glasses were Factory Pilots. You may not remember them and if you saw them today, you would probably never consider wearing anything like them -- they were closer to ski goggles than sunglasses. The reality is that Oakley made the first true cycling sunglasses. Anyone who remembers Bernard Hinault's crash wearing Vuarnet sunglasses in the 1985 tour knows, glass lenses were bad if you were a cyclist. Here's a nice related blog post highlighting how Greg Lemond changed the face of cycling wearing Oakley sunglasses. Oakley became synonymous not just with cycling, but with sports-active fashion.

Over the years, their product line-up has bounced around a bit. Factory Pilots were made obsolete by Blades which became M-frames. For about 20 years the basic M-frame design has been pretty much the same. The lenses connect in the same way. If I were to get out on the bike today, my M-Frames are my windshield.

But their fashion-focused glasses, they've been all over the place. Weird goggle-glasses and bug-eyed futuristic looking designs -- take the Sub Zero glasses -- every couple of years Oakley did something new. Or at least it seemed that way. Reality may be a bit more conservative.

Brand Predictability
As a consumer, on a certain level you could count on a couple of aspects of the brand. If you selected a product that was more classically activity focused, you could expect to count on a certain level of consistency in the product line. Over the years, I've replaced lenses, nose bridges, and the little rubber pieces that go on the ends of the ear pieces. To a certain extent, this is what you expect from performance products. While it's possible that I may not find the same food products at Trader Joe's next week or that Target will stop carrying the flavor of Softsoap that we like to use, I fully expect that I could take my bicycle to the "right" shop and get replacement parts for my Campagnolo components. Sure they are nearly 15 years old, but Campy designs their components to be serviceable. The same is true with my Silca pump.

This is why there is a little part of you that just falls through the floor when your at the Oakley Store and they tell you that replacement lenses for your glasses are no longer available. Sure, there are the promotional elements of the brand, but your common sense brain is telling you -- they're just plastic lenses. And what's more, moving to Half Jacket 2.0 as an upgrade seems like it's all about forcing you to buy a new plastic frame even though the frame you have is perfectly fine and would have worked perfectly well except that Oakley decided that it wouldn't. Because, hey... Fashion.

You know, once upon a time, I think that they actually had a lifetime warranty on their frames.

It's at this moment when the equation changes. In your mind, your asking the question, "are you telling me that you can't provide a channel to make and purchase old replacement lenses? It's just a piece of plastic." At this moment, there is so much marketing that's been undone. You're not thinking about Plutonite, Iridium, HD Optics or any other branded aspect -- the magically elevated relationship has just been undercut. Your brand girlfriend has just told you, "I love you but, when are you going to stop hanging out with all of those losers you call your friends." But Baby, we've been together since 1985!

Cycle of Life
As marketing pros seeing this from a product life cycle standpoint, we all understand certain aspects of the cycle of life. Not all products can run indefinitely. As tome point, sometimes you try to make changes to "energize" your customer base. From an Oakley product manager's perspective, when was the last time that I actually purchased lenses? Perhaps with a change like this might spark a new wave of transactions. Or it may change my behavior in a different way -- opening me to consider competitive products. As it was, that is exactly what happened -- my replacement lenses are not from Oakley; rather, they are from Maui Jim. Ah well. As for Oakley product management, I completely understand, cycle of life and all.

You brought me "new" options for sunglasses and all you got was this blog post.

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