“TO bring you an entirely new contact lens solution, we thought outside the box, and found our true inspiration in your eyes,” a voice says in a commercial for Biotrue. The Biotrue carton opens, and from its interior sides hang two pieces of paper folded to resemble green shutters framing a window, which exposes, in the form of a paper collage, a view of an idyllic island.
“Introducing Biotrue — it goes beyond cleaning,” the voice continues, as the collages form a light bulb and then a drop of solution splashing into a contact lens. “Inspired by the biology of your eyes, it’s the only solution with the same pH and the same lubricant found naturally in your eyes, so you’ll find it easier on them.” The spot, by TM Advertising of Dallas, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, is scheduled to begin running widely on Aug. 16.
The new brand, from Bausch & Lomb, “emerged from two megatrends we saw,” said Lisa VanDeMark, vice president for brand marketing at the company’s United States vision care unit. The first is “bio-inspired products that look to nature for their best ideas,” she said.
The Web site, Biotrue.com, gives examples: the shape of the boxfish inspired the exterior of the Toyota Prius, and the luminescence of butterfly wings inspired the technology for smartphone display screens.
Biotrue professes to mimic nature by using hyaluronan, a substance similar to tears first developed for ocular surgery. It has a pH level of 7.5, which the brand describes as the center of the range for healthy tears. Hyaluronan is not in any other lens solutions in the United States, the company says.
Ms. VanDeMark said another “megatrend” drove the development of Biotrue as well: the growing influence of so-called Lohas consumers, which stands for lifestyles of health and sustainability, a marketing term coined about a decade ago to describe consumers whose environmental and social concerns guide their purchases. Roughly 19 percent of American adults are counted as Lohas consumers, and they are credited with spending nearly $300 billion on sustainable products and services in 2008, according to the Natural Marketing Institute, a market research firm.
But there is something odd about Biotrue aiming at green consumers: It is not, as the company concedes, a green product.
“Bausch & Lomb cares about the environment,” begins a statement on the Biotrue carton. “This carton and bottle are 100 percent recyclable.”
Urvashi Rangan, project director of GreenerChoices.org, a Web site published by Consumer Reports that evaluates environmental claims on labels, called that claim “truthful but misleading.” Virtually any cardboard carton is recyclable, as are most plastic bottles, and the truly environmentally minded, Ms. Rangan said, make packages from recycled materials, an increasingly common practice.
“Having the cardboard made out of recycled materials is frankly another whole level of greenness,” she said. “If Bausch & Lomb is using virgin fiber to make a cardboard box, then they’re using trees, and that isn’t green.”
Ted Ning, executive director of the Lohas Forum, which hosts an annual conference for businesses and nonprofit groups, reviewed Biotrue’s Web site at a reporter’s request. Mr. Ning questioned whether the product would appeal to “conscious consumers” because it was neither made with recycled materials nor was its maker donating any proceeds to environmental or social causes.
“It’s a very meager effort to try to capitalize on green intentions, and I kind of consider that greenwashing,” Mr. Ning said, using the term for representing companies or products as more environmentally friendly than they are.
But Chris Huels, senior product manager at Bausch & Lomb, said Biotrue was not claiming to be a “green product,” but rather identifying this segment of consumers as “having an affinity” for the lens solution because they like the idea of nature-inspired products.
“It’s not just about being green but also about personal health and wellness,” Mr. Huels said. “They’re more into yoga, and into being one with their bodies, and this product that is inspired by the body will appeal to that consumer.”
With this market in mind, Biotrue will place ads on the Web site for Planet Green, the network owned by Discovery Communications, among others. Named for its German immigrant founders, John Jacob Bausch and Henry Lomb, Bausch & Lomb dates back to an eyeglass and telescope shop opened in 1853 in Rochester, where the company headquarters remain today.
A low point for the company came in 2006, when it recalled a contact lens solution, ReNu With MoistureLoc, after it was blamed for causing widespread eye infections. Seven Americans lost an eye, and 70 more needed corneal transplants. The company paid more than $250 million to settle about 600 lawsuits, according to Associated Press reports.
The recalls have “faded in a lot of consumers’ memories,” said Ms. VanDeMark of Bausch & Lomb. “When we talk to consumers in focus groups it doesn’t come up very often unprompted.”
The company, which still makes other varieties of ReNu, has a 16.9 percent share of the nearly $1 billion market for lens solution, with sales of $163.3 million in the 52 weeks ending June 13, according to the SymphonyIRI Group, a market data firm whose totals do not include sales at Wal-Mart. The category leader, Alcon, a division of Nestlé, which makes the Opti-Free brand, has a 28.8 percent share, with sales of $277.9 million for the same period.
Bausch & Lomb spent $947,000 on advertising on the ReNu brand in 2009, a steep drop from the $2.8 million spent in 2008, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP.
As for Biotrue, which will cost $10 for a 10-ounce bottle, in what the company says is an industry first, the bottle is not white plastic but clear.
“One of the things we heard from customers was there was a lot of frustration of not knowing when they were going to run out of contact solution,” Ms. VanDeMark said. “This allows you to know when you’re going to run out, so it doesn’t happen at 11 at night when you’re taking out your contacts.”
The clear bottles, which will be used for the company’s ReNu brand as well, will have symbolic value too, she said.
“Our brand character, if you will, is of being honest brands, being transparent brands, and I do think it helps us deliver on that,” Ms. VanDeMark said.