Background

Summary of Council decision:

Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.

Ad description

A press ad for Hidden Hearing, a hearing aid company, seen in the Mail on Sunday on 11 April 2021, featured the heading “SPECIAL PENSIONERS’ HEARING AID”. Further text included the claims “A special hearing aid offer has been introduced for pensioners. The hearing aid is low cost, simple to operate and brings IMPROVED hearing to thousands!” and “DON’T WAIT ANOTHER MINUTE GET IN TOUCH TODAY Not only are our pensioners [sic] hearing aids economical and discreet, but they could allow you to hear clearly again. So don’t delay, the results might be life changing”. Details of an exclusive £25 discount voucher, Freephone number, their website URL and free postal form to request an information pack were included.

Issue

The complainant, who understood the Bernafon Zerena 1 hearing aid, offered to them after responding to the ad for a cost of £1,398 per pair, was a standard, low-tech model offered by many companies, challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:

1. “low cost” and “economical”: and

2. “SPECIAL PENSIONERS’ HEARING AID”.

Response

1. & 2. Hidden Hearing Ltd said they had one product range which was less expensive than the Bernafon Zerena 1, but that it was only available in limited styles and was an entry level product with limited technology. They said the Bernafon Zerena 1 aid had more technological features and was suitable for the mass market. It was one of the cheaper products they sold and was suitable for people on a budget, such as pensioners, when compared to their other product ranges. The most expensive product range they offered retailed at £5,499. The price of the Bernafon Zerena 1 also included unlimited follow-up appointments and tuning, a 3-year supply of batteries, a 6-month hearing test and full consultation. They said they offered a £25 discount for pensioners who purchased the Bernafon Zerena 1 aid if they responded via the ad. In their view, because the Bernafon Zerena 1 was one of their cheaper products, it was acceptable to describe it as “low cost” and “economical”. For the same reason, and because they believed cost was an important consideration to pensioners and they offered a £25 discount to pensioners if they responded via the ad, they thought it was acceptable to use the claim “SPECIAL PENSIONERS’ HEARING AID”.

Assessment

1. Upheld

The ad featured the claim “A special hearing aid offer has been introduced for pensioners” and references to a £25 discount voucher, in addition to the claims “low cost” and “economical”. The ad was clearly targeted at pensioners, who the ASA considered were likely to have some knowledge of the general price range of hearing aids. In that context we considered they would understand, from the overall impression created by the ad, that the advertised hearing aids were inexpensive. We acknowledged that the Bernafon Zerena 1 aid was a lower cost option in comparison to other hearing aids Hidden Hearing offered, and that the price included additional services as well as the hearing aid. However, we understood that the advertised hearing aid was not the cheapest that they offered. We also noted that while Hidden Hearing offered a £25 discount to pensioners who responded via the ad, the cost of the hearing aid once the discount had been applied was £1,373. We considered the consumers to whom the ad was targeted were unlikely to view that as inexpensive.

We therefore concluded that the claims “low cost” and “economical”, in the context of the overall impression created by the ad, misleadingly implied that the advertised hearing aid was inexpensive.

On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules  3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.  (Misleading advertising) and  3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation.  (Substantiation).

2. Upheld

The ad included text that stated “A special hearing aid offer has been introduced for pensioners”. We considered the reference to an “offer” suggested that the “special” nature of the hearing aid might be linked to factors such as price. However, we considered the overall impression of the ad and in particular the prominent headline claim “SPECIAL PENSIONERS’ HEARING AID” was that the hearing aid had specific features that made it uniquely suitable for use by pensioners.

We understood from Hidden Hearing that the hearing aid was generally suitable for those with hearing loss and did not have special features which made it uniquely suitable for pensioners. We acknowledged that there was a discount of £25 available to pensioners if they responded via the ad, but we considered a reduction in the cost did not make the hearing aid itself “special” to pensioners.

Because the ad implied the hearing aid had specific features that made it uniquely suitable for use by pensioners, but that was not the case, we concluded the ad was misleading.

On that point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules  3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.  (Misleading advertising) and  3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation.  (Substantiation).

Action

The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Hidden Hearing Ltd to ensure they did not mislead consumers about the cost of their products, or claim that their products had special features that made them uniquely suitable for certain groups of people, unless they held adequate evidence to substantiate such claims.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

3.1     3.7    


More on