Ad Standards Board rules ad saying ‘Hearing aids can be UGLY’ is discriminatory

Victorian HearingThe Ad Standards Board has banned a controversial Victorian Hearing campaign which described hearing aids as “ugly” along with an image in which the hearing device was replaced with a prawn.

Victorian Hearing apologised for the campaign at the end of last month after people took to the page’s Facebook page to express their anger, with one poster saying: “I don’t really love my hearing aids, but I accept that with the severity of my hearing loss, I’m stuck with them. To see them referred to as ugly though — that’s just really unhelpful.”

The ad, which was running online, on social media and across transport, was removed following the apology.

Complaints against the ad argued it was “utterly offensive” to use the word ugly to describe hearing aids.

“The visual image of a prawn plays into stigmatisation of a group that may have no option to but to wear hearing aids. It is not ok to mock someone’s disability or encourage the general community to perpetuate the myth that hearing aids somehow make you ugly,” a complaint read.

Other complaints suggested the ad was “out of touch” with the deaf community and was discriminatory and hateful towards people who need hearing aids

“I find this out of touch with the deaf community and very offensive. My 7yr old daughter is a Cochlear Implant user and I’d hate her to see this ad and to think that what she wears on her ear is not good enough or something she should be embarrassed about.

Hearing aids are not ugly, and to label them as such is tantamount to disability discrimination and hate.”

Victorian Hearing defended the campaign, arguing the ad in question had “been used in many forums since 2013” and had not “been subject to any negative response until now”.

“The aim of the advertisement was to inform and educate adults in the process of considering hearing aid options, or looking at replacing their outdated devices, with an invisible hearing solution option,” the hearing company said.

“Based on our market research, 1 in 6 Australians suffer hearing loss and delay the fitting of hearing aids for many reasons, one of the most common reasons being vanity. The advertisement is aimed to appeal to those people who need the assistance of a hearing aid, but are avoiding clinical assistance.

“We want this advertisement to result in more people seeking professional assistance for hearing loss. Advertisement is not advertising to Children: The advertisements are not, and could not be said to be, directed primarily to Children.”

Victorian Hearing rejected claims the ad was discriminatory, saying “The advertisement is an illustrative comparison as between a new product and old technology.”

In conclusion the hearing company said: “The primary purpose of the advertisement was to encourage a section of the public with hearing loss to seek clinical advice and services. The overall benefit to the community was to increase awareness of new products that improve the wellbeing and general life experience of those with hearing loss, notwithstanding that the advertisement may have struck a sensitivity some people. For this reason we removed all instances of the advertisement from publication.”

In its ruling the board considered that linking the word ‘ugly’ to to a product used by people with hearing disabilities “does incite contempt or ridicule” as it suggested people who wear traditional hearing ads “are wearing something which is ugly”, with the board concluding this is “likely to cause offense and distress”.

While the board noted it was the company’s intent to promote an alternative hearing aid product, it was the board view the overall message of the ad was vilifying a section of the community on account of disability.

The complaints were upheld.

In response to the ruling, Victorian Hearing apologised “unreservedly” for any offence caused by the ad however stood by its intent to raise awareness of an alternative product.

Miranda Ward


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