While the Ray-Ban Wayfarer is one of those products that has soaked itself into society so thoroughly that it has become an instantly recognizable style, it was not always so. The Wayfarer has gone from popularity to near being discontinued and back again.
What did Ray-Ban do to turn the Wayfarer into an American icon and save it from ultimate doom? Here is the Wayfarer story.
First introduced in 1952, the Wayfarer was originally targeted at pilots, playing off the success of the Aviator model. But rather than go for the large lenses designed to cover the strange-looking tan lines caused by the large goggles worn by the open cockpit pilots of WWI, Wayfarers were much sleeker looking.
But it was thanks to Audrey Hepburn wearing a pair them in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's that wave the Wayfarer initial success.
By the 70's, however, sales had become quite slow. Ray-Ban was ready to discontinue the line. Even though they had experienced success, clearly attributable to their appearance in the movies, it was not until 1982 that the whole idea of product placement really took off.
That's when the producers of the soon-to-be filmed ET: The Extra-Terrestrial Approach candy company Mars Inc. about using M & M's in their movie. Mars turned down the offer after film makers asked for payment. Hershey's, on the other hand, decided to take the risk and paid to have Reese's Pieces appear in the movie.
The incredible success of Reese's Pieces' appearance in ET caused product placement companies to start springing up.
Return of an Icon
After being approached by one such company, Ray-Ban agreed to pay to have the Wayfarer appear in the movie Risky Business where Tom Cruise famously wore them through the movie as well as for promotional posters and box covers.
The Wayfarer's 1983 sales saw a boost that would cement its iconic destiny. The Wayfarer went on to appear in over 360 movies and television shows during the next four years.
Today, movies like 1998's The Truman Show lampoon product placement efforts and attempts at covert marketing are easily picked off by savvy viewers. While product placement marketing continues to become more and more of a tricky business in order to pull it off successfully – the goal being to prominently place a product without it being obvious that it's there intentionally – its early successes has guaranteed the Wayfarer a permanent place in marketing and fashion history.