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Reference: 30935 and 31424
Product: Hearing Aids
Advertiser: Hidden Hearing
Medium: Radio, SMS
ASAI Code 7th Edition: 2.4(c), 4.1, 4.4, 4.9, 4.10, 5.16
An advertising campaign for Hidden Hearing referred to the following:
Advertisement 1 (radio):
“Hello, I'm … Do you have difficulty hearing? Well, Hidden Hearing are looking for 25 people with a hearing difficulty to evaluate new digital noise-reducing devices for clearer hearing. This special scheme is available only from Hidden Hearing and over 75 clinics nationwide. Spaces are limited to 25 participants so call today on 1800 370 000 or log onto HiddenHearing.ie”
Advertisement 2 (SMS):
“WANTED - 25 people who have difficulty hearing, especially in noisy situations, to evaluate new digital, noise reduction hearing aids, risk-free. Candidates will be selected by 22/06/2018. To apply text HEAR and your name & address to 50015. T&Cs apply. Unsub text REMOVE to…”
Two complaints were received regarding the Campaign:
Complaint 1: Radio
The complainant said that on hearing the advertisement he rang to get an appointment to be one of the 25 volunteers to test the new hearing equipment. When he went for his appointment, however, he was not provided with new equipment to test and evaluate as indicated but was rather given a hard sell for a hearing aid costing €4,700. He said that while he probably required a hearing aid that this was not what he had signed up for. He said that he had never been invited to evaluate the “new digital nose reducing devices” in the hearing centre as indicated in the advertising material.
Complaint 2: SMS
Following receipt of the SMS, the complainant who suffered from hearing difficulties, applied to be one of the volunteers for the trial. He was informed, however, that in order to take part in the trial he would have to purchase a hearing aid up front. There was not just one hearing aid which he could have chosen from but rather there were many at various prices, some at a cost of several thousand euro.
The complainant said that it was evident that there was no particular model of hearing aid to evaluate as indicated in the advertising. He considered that the purpose of the advertising had been to generate sales.
Response to complaint 1:
The advertisers said that they took their responsibilities as an advertiser very seriously and had compliance processes in place to avoid giving rise to complaints. They said the content of their radio advertisement had been drawn from a press advertisement which they had used from time to time when they believed they had a product for which the text was particularly relevant. They said that the objective of the advertisement had been to invite respondents to trial new hearing aids in their hearing centres and that, if they wished, they would pay a security deposit and take the aids away for a 90 day trial. They said that at any time during the trial period the participant had the option of returning the hearing aid and having their deposit refunded.
The advertisers said that their press advertisements in relation to the offer had explained the process involved and that it was the time constraints of their 30 seconds radio advertisement which had resulted in the exclusion of the full explanation of the offer. They said they would be quite prepared to insert an extra stage between the response to the radio advertisement and the appointment in the form of a pre-appointment letter to the respondents. They said the purpose of the letter would be to fully explain the offer and address the nature of the trial and the money-back offer.
In conclusion the advertisers said they were confident that any consumer attending their hearing clinic would have received a professional hearing assessment free of charge and that any possible sale would have been subject to a 90 day money back trial.
Response to complaint 2:
The advertisers’ response to complaint two was identical to their response to complaint 1. They said that in this instance, however, it had been the restriction attached to the number of characters which they had been able to use in their text message which had resulted in them being unable to provide for a full explanation of their offer.
In this case alongside their suggestion of a pre-appointment letter to the respondents to their offer, they also suggested that they could perhaps insert the address of their website where the full terms and conditions of the offer would be made available.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaints and the advertisers’ response. The Committee noted that the advertisements had invited consumers to apply to be part of a group of 25 people to evaluate new hearing devices, which they considered that consumers were likely to understand as making themselves available only to test a new product. The Committee considered the fact that participants would actually have to pay for their hearing devices up-front, with the proviso that within 90 days they would have their money refunded if they were unhappy with their devices, was not consistent with an invitation to evaluate a new product. They also considered the fact that a security deposit was required was a major condition that should have been highlighted in the body copy of the advertising.
The Committee also noted that the radio advertisement had not indicted that terms and conditions were applicable to the offer. While the SMS had indicated that “T&Cs apply”, there was no information given in relation to where the terms and conditions could be sourced.
The Committee concluded that the majority of consumers would consider that invitations to participate in a trial would not involve a cost, unless it was explicitly stated otherwise.
In the circumstances the Complaints Committee considered the advertising to be in breach of Sections 4.1, 4.4, 4.9, 4.10 and 5.16 of the Code.
The advertising should not be used in the same format again.