Adults of a certain age who know the pain of wearing braces understand why clear plastic aligners that provide a less invasive and unsightly alternative make up a rapidly growing industry.
Invisalign pioneered the technology more than 20 years ago, but now it finds itself facing fresh competition from direct-to-consumer challengers. Parent company Align Technology's stock price has dropped by more than 50% in the past year as competitors encroach on its market share.
That competition has come from companies like SmileDirectClub, a five-year-old Nashville-based startup that allows customers to skip the doctor's office and buy aligners straight from its own website or nearly 400 retail locations, which this week went public at a valuation of $8.9 billion. The stock dropped 28% on the first day of trading, but cofounders Jordan Katzman and Alex Fenkell still became two of America's youngest billionaires overnight, as Business Insider reported.
Invisalign previously invested in SmileDirectClub, but now it's looking to hold off the rise of that brand and other challengers like Candid Co. by expanding its advertising efforts.
Publicis beat out WPP and Omnicom to win a three-way holding company pitch.
One source with knowledge of Invisalign's strategy said the company, which has primarily advertised to orthodontists and parents of teenagers in the past, wants to build on consistent growth in the category by increasing its ad spend to target new audiences on more platforms. International consultancy Comvergence estimated that Align Technology spent about $10 million advertising the brand in the US last year.
A spokesperson said the company does not comment on its advertising business.
Several sources with direct knowledge of the matter said Align Technology recently consolidated the Invisalign brand's creative, digital, and media buying business with Publicis Groupe after conducting a global review that pitted the world's three largest ad agency holding companies — WPP, Omnicom, and Publicis — against one another.
These parties told Business Insider that a multi-agency Publicis team beat out its bigger competitors to win the business this week. Spokespeople for all three companies declined to comment.
Prior to the review, WPP's Wavemaker and MDC Partners' Colle and McVoy handled ad buying and creative duties for Invisalign, respectively. The latter agency was not involved in the review and will end its four-year relationship with the brand by the end of the year.
SmileDirectClub follows the ad industry's in-housing trend, hiring top agency talent to build its own team.
This strategic shift follows the dissolution of a financial partnership between the company and its most prominent competitor. Align purchased a 19% stake in SmileDirectClub before approximately 40 of its own key patents expired in 2017, but earlier this year an arbitrator found that it had violated a non-compete clause by copying SDC's store concept, forcing the closure of its 12 retail locations and the return of its ownership stake.
"Invisalign treatment is the most advanced clear aligner system in the world and backed by more than 22 years and over $1 billion investment in technology and R&D," read a statement from an Align Technology representative who said the company no longer holds any interest in its rival.
Meanwhile, SmileDirectClub has taken a very different approach to its own marketing efforts by bringing all of that work in-house.
At the beginning of the year the company hired Bruce Henderson, formerly chief creative officer at IPG events agency Jack Morton, to run its 125-strong internal team, and in May it blanketed New York's Times Square with an out of home campaign including digital billboards and ads in nearby taxis and subway stations as it prepared to go public.
SmileDirectClub CEO David Katzman rang the Nasdaq opening bell along with cofounders Alex Fenkell and Jordan Katzman on September 12, the day the company's stock began trading. A representative did not respond to a request for comment on this story.