A television advertisement featured a couple giving a personal testimony of their experience of the husband’s hearing loss and subsequent use of a hearing aid and included the following statements:
Man: “A couple of people had started to comment “Are you deaf or something?”
Man: “The kind of pivotal moment was, saw Hidden Hearing and they were doing free hearing tests. Transpired that my hearing was significantly degraded.”
Woman: “When he got the results he was quite like ‘oh God, hearing aids, that’s supposed to be for someone a lot older than me”
Man: “I cannot say enough how much it actually changed me into now, this is fine, I can be normal again.”
Woman: “I see a big difference in it. The funny thing is, he’s hearing things I’m not hearing.”
Man: “Well for me it’s been life changing.”
Three complaints were received regarding the advertising. The complainants raised the following issues:
The advertising was offensive to young people who use hearing aids as it implied that only older people used hearing aids.
One complainant referred to the statement “Are you deaf or something?” being said in a joking manner.
Two of the complainants considered that the advertisement was offensive to deaf people as it equated the ability to hear with being ‘normal’, therefore, implying that deaf people were not normal.
The advertisers stated that they took their responsibilities as a major advertiser very seriously and recognised the need for full compliance with the Code. They wished to acknowledge the nature of the market in which they operated as they were addressing an audience who have difficulty hearing and they recognised that for some this was a sensitive issue. They said that they regarded hearing loss as a condition that for many can be addressed by the proper prescription and use of appropriate hearing aids and that their experience was that the vast majority of the people who sought out their services can be assisted.
They said that the advertisement was unusual in that it was wholly made up of the personal testimony from clients of theirs; with the sole exception of the voice over at the close of the advertisement giving their contact details. They said that their client’s words were not scripted, but were edited from a longer interview which they gave them, and the words they chose to use were words with which they, as members of the group to whom they were advertising to, were comfortable. They said that they realised that this did not absolve them from the responsibility to comply with the Code and they considered that it must be possible that an advertisement could be considered offensive or misleading by a tiny minority, even an individual, and yet still be found to be in compliance with the Code.
The advertisers stated that it was the customer’s wife who paraphrased what her husband had said to her when he was first tested and recommended to use hearing aids. They said that it had not been stated as fact, but rather she had simply shared with the viewer a personal view and one that was unquestionably a widely held misconception. They said that there was no suggestion in the advertisement that hearing aids were designed solely for use by older people, rather the speaker was acknowledging that this was her husband’s belief which he now realised was wrong. They said that many people in their 40s and 50s with hearing loss did nothing to address their condition because they considered that hearing aids were ‘only for older people’ and that each year they helped thousands of people over the age of 70 who needed help with their hearing, but they were approached by only hundreds of people aged 60 or younger with hearing loss. They said that the average age of a first-time hearing aid user was just above 70 years but often such people told them that their hearing loss goes back many, many years.
The advertisers said that the man had recounted his experience of living with hearing loss and had said “a couple of people had started to comment are you deaf or something?” They said that the man’s tone of voice and his facial expression indicated that this was asked by people who were asking out of concern, and that there was nothing to suggest this was meant as, or taken as, a joke or ‘almost a joke’. They said that the word ‘deaf’ was in common use for any degree of hearing loss and so could not, in itself, be deemed offensive. They said that the tone of voice used in the advertisement was not sneering, neither was it critical or demeaning, but rather was one of serious concern. In the circumstances they strongly refuted any claim that the use of the phrase ‘are you deaf or something’ was offensive.
The advertiser pointed out that it was factually incorrect to suggest that anywhere in the advertisement was the man, with his improved hearing, ‘referred to as being ‘Normal’. They said that the man was speaking of how his life had changed when he said, “I cannot say enough how much it actually changed me into now, this is fine, I can be normal again.” They said that this was a reference to the contrast with the earlier advertisement content where he and his wife described all that he had experienced as a consequence of having a significant hearing loss. They said ‘Normal’ in this context described his assessment of his life after the provision of hearing aids and his life before the onset of hearing loss, i.e. it was back to his ‘normal’. They said that it was a distortion of the facts to suggest that the advertisement inferred that those with permanent hearing loss were not normal and they again strongly refuted that the advertisement’s use of the word ‘normal’ was offensive.
Finally, the advertisers stated that they had sympathy with the complainants and that while they refuted their assertions that the advertisement was in breach of the Code, they did regret that they were upset. They said that in creating the advertisements, they took great care to ensure that they were in compliance with the Code.
Complaints Not Upheld.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaints and the advertisers’ response.
Issue 1 – Not Upheld:
The Committee noted that the advertisement had included the statement “hearing aids, that’s supposed to be for someone a lot older than me”. They accepted that this was the belief of the hearing aid user regarding what he thought was the age profile of hearing aid users. The Committee did not consider that the advertisement was claiming that hearing aids were only required by older people. In the circumstances, the Committee did not consider that the advertisement was in breach of the Code on the grounds raised by the complainants.
Issue 2 – Not Upheld:
The Committee noted that one of the complainants had considered that the term ‘deaf’ had been used in a joking manner. The Committee considered the advertisement and noted that this section of the advertisement featured the husband recounting his experience of hearing loss and the questions he was asked about his hearing. The Committee did not consider that the recounting of the question had been made in a joking manner and they accepted that the term ‘deaf’ was commonly used in regard to any level of hearing loss. In the circumstances the Committee did not consider that the advertisement was in breach of the Code on the grounds raised at Issue 2.
Issue 3 – Not Upheld:
The Committee noted the concerns raised by the complainants. On reviewing the advertisement, the Committee noted that the statement made was “I cannot say enough how much it actually changed me into now, this is fine, I can be normal again.” and they accepted that it had been made by the man to describe his experience of using a hearing aid. The Committee considered that the use of the word ‘again’ after normal in the advertisement evidenced that the man was referring to what he considered his ‘normal’ was before his hearing loss. The Committee agreed that the advertising had not inferred that those with permanent hearing loss were not ‘normal’ and in the circumstances they did not consider that the advertising was in breach of the Code on the grounds suggested.
No further action required.