Oscar Wylee accepts $3.5
million penalty for false ‘Pair for a Pair’ promises
Oscar Wylee, an optometry and eyewear retailer, decided to
target socially-conscious consumers by promising to support
charitable causes. Specifically, each time a consumer
purchased a pair of spectacles they would donate a pair to
someone in need.
That’s a winning marketing strategy if followed
correctly, as Michael Field outlines in his marketing
analysis at the end of this article.
But actions speak louder than words, and this is where
Oscar Wylee failed.
The Oscar Wylee marketing
The Oscar Wylee marketing centred around two statements.
- Pair for a Pair statements including:
“Buy a pair, give a pair”
“For every pair purchased, a pair is donated to someone
“One for one. All the time. Forever. We donate a pair of
glasses to those in need for every pair purchased”
These statements appeared on the Oscar Wylee website,
Oscar Wylee Facebook and Instagram pages, Oscar Wylee
email newsletters, physical promotional materials
(including business cards and in-store booklets) and
signs displayed in Oscar Wylee stores.
- Rose Charities statements including:
“We have partnered with Rose Charities which helps build
sustainable eye care programs in Cambodia”
“Oscar Wylee helps out through a range of different
ways. From the performance of eye tests, distribution of
glasses, performance of cataract surgeries, and training
of eye doctors.”
These statements appeared in the ‘I Care Video’ posted
on the Oscar Wylee website, Youtube and Vinmeo, on
Facebook and signs displayed in Oscar Wylee stores.
Store Sign Example
Contraventions of the
Australian Consumer Law (ACL)
Oscar Wylee admitted that the two statements contravened
The Pair for a Pair Statements were:
- Misleading and or deceptive conduct in contravention
of s 18 ACL; and
- Conduct liable to mislead the public as to the
quantity of goods in contravention of s 33 ACL;
Because although Oscar Wylee sold some 328,010
pairs of glasses between 1 January 2014 and 31 December
2018, it donated only 3,181 pairs of glasses. That is, it
broke its promise that for each pair of glasses a consumer
purchased it would donate another pair of glasses to someone
in need at that time, because it donated only one set of
frames for each 100 pairs of glasses sold.
The Rose Charities Statements were:
- Misleading and or deceptive conduct in contravention
of s 18 ACL; and
- False or misleading representations as to
affiliation with Rose Charities in contravention of s
29(1)(h) of the ACL;
Because although Oscar Wylee represented it was
closely affiliated with Rose Charities (a charitable
association) between 1 January 2014 and 31 December 2018, it
made only one donation of $2,000 on 4 February 2014.
The Penalty Proceedings
The proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia were
penalty proceedings. The judgment is Australian
Competition and Consumer Commission v Oscar Wylee Pty Ltd
 FCA 1340 (18 September 2020) (Katzmann J).
The Court considered these factors in assessing the
- Oscar Wylee admitted the contraventions. Justice
“the Pair for a Pair statements were capable of leading
ordinary or reasonable consumers of spectacles to the
belief that on each occasion a pair of glasses was sold,
a pair would be donated to charity — when the facts were
very different. The effect of the Rose Charities
Representations was to describe or imply that Rose
Charities was a partner of Oscar Wylee, which implied a
continuing, cooperative charitable relationship between
the two entities when there was no such relationship.
Indeed, there was no relationship at all.”
- The statements were a substantial feature of its
website and marketing to consumers.
- he conduct occurred over a lengthy period, from 13
January 2014 until 31 December 2018.
- The conduct was serious and widespread. Until
October 2015, Oscar Wylee operated as an online retailer
via its website and social media platforms (Facebook,
Instagram and email newsletters). From October 2015, it
also operated through 62 physical stores across
Australia. After the 2016/2017 financial year total
revenue soared. But from April 2020, sales fell heavily,
affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The conduct was “part of a strategy designed to
attract consumers in a competitive market. Oscar Wylee
stood to profit from inducing consumers to purchase its
products and still does. It built its reputation by
engaging in the contravening conduct, appealing to
socially-conscious consumers who wanted to support
charitable causes through their purchasing behaviour.
Its conduct was a betrayal of that promise.”
- scar Wylee has now established a compliance program
and that the offending representations have been removed
from all its media.
- Oscar Wylee has donated in the year after 31
December 2018, a total of 333,404 glasses frames (and
not prescription lenses) to charities, foundations,
hospitals or prisons and a total of $80,000 to
The Court ordered that Oscar Wylee pay a penalty of
$2,100,000 for the Pair for Pair Statements, and a penalty
of $1,400,000 for the Rose Charities Statements.
The Court agreed to Oscar Wylee’s request to pay the
penalty by four annual instalments, with the first
instalment of $875,000 payable on 18 October 2020. The
reason given was “Oscar Wylee’s current financial state and
the anticipated impact of COVID-19 on its operations in the
short to medium term”. The Court noted that each instalment
will exceed the annual profit ‘by a wide margin’ and will
not be treated by Oscar Wylee or anyone else ‘as an
acceptable cost of doing business’.
The Court ordered publication of a statement headed:
“Federal Court finds that Oscar Wylee has breached the
Australian Consumer Law”.
The Court also ordered that Oscar Wylee be restrained
from making statements that it is making charitable or
philanthropic donations or has charitable affiliations for 6
The Court ordered that Oscar Wylee maintain an Australian
Consumer Law compliance program for 3 years.
And the court ordered Oscar Wiley contribute $30,000
towards the ACCC’s legal costs.
Marketing Commentary by
Michael Field from EvettField Partners
The famous advertising heavyweight David Ogilvy once
said, "The consumer isn't a moron, she's your wife.”
What he meant is that if you are lying to your customer,
they will eventually find out and there will be a price to
pay for that deception. So, in essence, don’t lie, treat the
customer with respect, with regard for their intelligence
and present your offer sincerely and genuinely, without
Oscar Wylee did not listen to David Ogilvy’s advice. They
took the extraordinary decision to massively deceive their
customers with numerous false promises of social good and a
very well-constructed, and heavily marketed pretence of
being a good corporate citizen.
Oscar Wylee is playing in the fiercely competitive $4
billion Australian Optometry and Optical Dispensing market
which has seen a massive increase in new competitors with
physical stores, compounded by a huge growth in online only
competitors and a global marketplace.
Given the competitive landscape, brand integrity is more
important than ever. Particularly with socially conscious
consumers who are voting with their wallets for social
causes that matter to them.
By promising ‘pair for a pair’ and not keeping that
promise, Oscar Wylee has broken the most important bond that
you can have with a consumer. That bond is trust.
The fines are probably sufficient as a penalty for its
actions and as a deterrent to others in the market to
prevent further deceptions of this nature.
However the biggest penalty that Oscar Wylee will pay is
the loss of reputation and brand trust. It has left the
market wide open for a genuine competitor with a legitimate
social cause agenda and with actions to match to occupy the
space left behind by Oscar Wylee.