Deceptive Hearing Aid Marketing Tactics | The Truth About Hearing Aid Marketing

Dr. Cliff Olson
July 16, 2018
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Deceptive Hearing Aid Marketing Tactics | The Truth About Hearing Aid Marketing

Deceptive Hearing Aid Marketing Tactics | The Truth About Hearing Aid Marketing. Dr. Cliff Olson, Audiologist and Founder of Applied Hearing Solutions in Anthem Arizona, discusses marketing tactics of some hearing aid dealers.

Back in the early 90s, some hearing aid companies landed in hot water over misleading claims about their products. The FDA stepped in, and the marketing stopped, but this hasn’t stopped these companies from getting more creative with the type of marketing that they do. So, in this article, I’m covering these deceptive marketing tactics that you need to look out for.

There is no doubt that marketing is an essential part of any product or service that is offered by a company. But there’s an honest way to market these products and services, and then there’s dishonest ways to market them. So, I’ll want to make sure that I go over these common marketing tactics that are used by these deceptive hearing aid companies.

Bait and switch

This one’s pretty common. This is where you see marketing for extremely cheap hearing devices to get you into the door, and then after they do all of their testing and evaluation, they tell you that that particular product isn’t right for you, and that you’re going to need a product that is substantially more expensive.

Now, you don’t have to get that product that is substantially more expensive, and that product may in fact be the one that is actually right for you. If you go with the cheaper product that they marketed, the chances are is that they’re not going to give you the level of service that you would’ve gotten if you bought their more expensive product. Not to mention, the product in and of itself won’t be very good either.

That being said, the type of companies that use this tactic probably wouldn’t even give you good service if you bought the more expensive product anyway.

False expectations

This is where a company will make wildly absurd claims about their products and what their capabilities are. Take this article for instance. Any company that claims to give you 90% background noise reduction is just flat out lying to you, and I would suspect that it’s just a matter of time before the FDA catches onto this and shuts this down as well.

Yes, hearing aids can and will give you benefit in a background noise situation, assuming that they are programmed correctly, and that you have a decent level of technology. But to claim that you can get 90% background noise reduction with any hearing aid is flat out misleading.

Any marketing that tells you that you can get the same great hearing aid technology for a tenth of the price

Let’s take an advertisement I found in the newspaper recently. In this ad, they’re actually telling you that you can get better hearing delivered for just $299.

“The average hearing aid costs about $2400. Why spend that much when you can buy a high-quality hearing aid for $299?”

It goes on to say your hearing aid kit:

“…will be delivered right to you, no need for inconvenient office visits.”

The funny thing is that those office visits are exactly what are making hearing aids work effectively for you as an individual. You’ve heard me a million times talk about it in my other videos about how real ear verification is the single most important factor of getting hearing aids to work correctly for you, and to get them programmed correctly to your hearing loss prescription, and you can’t do that when you receive something in the mail that’s in a box.

These hearing aids (if you can even call them that, because they’re not customizable) were probably purchased in China for about $10, and they sell them to you for the low price of $300. But hold on, it gets better. Let’s keep reading the ad.

“With our high definition 100% digital hearing aids, you’ll enjoy receiver-in-canal technology for greater sound clarity, no distortion caused by sound being carried through a tube.

  • Adaptive noise reduction eliminates unwanted background noise by up to (you guessed it) 90%.
  • Four program presents with single button control for easy selection.
  • And kit includes speaker tips and multiple sizes for a great fit.
  • Just $299 per aid with free shipping. “

Alright, let’s talk about receiver-in-the-canal technology reducing distortion compared to a tube. That is flat out incorrect. Distortion has nothing to do with it being a tube or being a receiver wire. I fit a number of patients with tubes, and they don’t have any distortion issues. So, I don’t know where they’re coming up with this type of information! With adaptive noise reduction, again they’re claiming to reduce background noise up to 90%. So just by reading that, you should run as far as you can in the other direction.

My personal favorite – The research study.

My buddy, Dr. Scot Frink from Salem Audiology in Salem, Oregon actually found this ad in his local newspaper and it’s a good one. The headline reads:

“Field test candidates wanted.

Urgent notice, you may be qualified to participate in a special field test of new hearing instrument technology being held at a local test site. An industry leader in digital hearing aid devices is sponsoring a product field test in your area next week, and they have asked us to select up to 15 qualified candidates to participate. They are interested in determining the benefits of GENIUS 3.0 Technology in eliminating the difficulty hearing aid users experience in difficult environments, such as those with background noise or multiple talkers. Candidates in other test areas have reported very positive feedback so far.”

Don’t worry, it gets better.

“In an effort to accurately demonstrate the incredible performance of these devices, specially trained representatives will be conducting testing and demonstrations during this special event. In addition to audiometric hearing evaluation, candidates will receive a fiber-optic otoscope exam, a painless procedure that could reveal common hearing problems such as excessive wax or damage to the eardrum, as well as other common cause* of hearing deficiencies.

*Yes, I wrote ‘cause’. That was a typo.

My favorite part was when they were talking about specially trained representatives. Wouldn’t you think that they would want audiologists, or researchers, something like that? No, they actually bring in outside sales people to fit you with the devices. It’s not really a research field study. I mean, you can technically get away with that, but their purpose is to sell you the hearing aids. And you know they’re really laying it on thick when they’re talking about a fiber-optic otoscope exam. That’s just a fancy way to say that they’re going to look inside of your ears with a light.

So, let’s talk about the different marketing tactics they’re actually using inside of this field test study.

1. Scarcity

They’re trying to make you think that they’re performing this research on a very rare type of hearing aid that is brand new, but the GENIUS 3.0 hearing aid is just a rebranded Signia hearing aid, and you can get those pretty much anywhere. I mean I sell them in my clinic, there’s a ton of other clinics that sell them, and they’ve actually been selling them for a while.

The other thing is that they’re restricting it to only 15 participants. They want you to think that you have to act fast, because if you don’t get there in time, you’re not going to be able to be inside of that field test study. But let me tell you something. If 50 people showed up for that, they would be fitting 50 people with hearing aids.

2. The offer is no risk

They just want you to wear the devices for 30 days, come back and report what your experience was. They’ll even give you a $100 gift card to do so. But if you want to keep the hearing aids, we’ll give them to you for a really good price.

What this ad doesn’t tell you is that all of these locations that they’ve listed are Miracle Ear locations. It’s pretty obvious why they wouldn’t want to list their actual business name, because no one would really believe that these particular locations aren’t just trying to sell hearing aids. And that, my friend, is deceptive.

There are plenty of ethical hearing aid clinics out there that are trying to market their products and services in an honest way, and now that you know what to look out for, you can avoid the ones that are trying to trick you, and you can go to the ones that aren’t.

Video Transcript

In the early 90's the FDA issued warnings to several hearing aid companies for misleading claims over their products.  Marketing is an essential part of any product or service offered by a company, but there are legitimate ways to market, and there are deceptive ways to market.Let's talk about some of the more common deceptive marketing techniques.

#1. Bait and Switch -  This one is fairly common.  Companies lure you in with cheap hearing aids, then tell you that the hearing aids won't work for your hearing loss.  They then try to sell you hearing aids that are significantly more expensive.  Even if you do decide to purchase the cheaper ones, they likely won't be providing you with an excellent fitting and follow-up care since their main goal is to sell not treat.  

#2. False Expectations - This is where a company will make wild claims on the performance of their devices.  For instance, if a company tells you that their hearing aids will provide you with "90% background noise reduction" or that their hearing aids will provide you "up to 90% speech understanding in noise", they are trying to mislead you.  Basically, don't trust these types of claims.

#3. Same hearing aid, just 1/10th the price - Hearing aids that cost a tiny fraction of what a regular hearing aid costs do not perform like regular hearing aids despite what the marketing says.  Usually, these hearing aids are not programmable, and they do not come with any professional services that are necessary to maximize the performance of a hearing aid.  

#4. The Research Study - This is where a hearing aid dealer will lead you to believe that they are conducting a field study on the performance of their hearing aids.  They often lure you in with the promise that they will not try and sell you anything.  They say that they have a limited supply of the devices being tested, and that there is a no-risk trial where you will have the "option" to buy the hearing aids upon completion.  They are basically doing the "hard-sell" at the completion of the fitting and disguising it as a research study. There are plenty of ethical hearing aid clinics out there.  Now that you know what to look for, you can avoid the ones trying to trick you and go to the ones who aren't.

Dr. Cliff Olson
Audiologist & YouTuber

Dr. Cliff is an unwavering supporter of Hearing Aid Best Practices and advocate for individuals with hearing loss, which inspired him to develop the Dr. Cliff Approved Provider Network.

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Dr. Cliff Olson

Audiologist & YouTuber