Audira Articles

Views, insight, perspectives, and commentary on hearing care.
Font size: +
4 minutes reading time (881 words)

We reap what we show — Part 1

Reap what we show with stereotypes

Have you ever wondered what type of images we should be showing in our marketing and hearing healthcare messages?

Whilst it very much depends on the particular context and response we are aiming to evoke, there are some fundamental principles we need to consider here, principles grounded in the way the human mind works.

When people are formulating their perceptions and attitudes towards hearing, they do so by drawing on information that springs most readily to mind. Think how easy it is to recall images, and we quickly see why it's important we get our imagery right.

This series of two articles will explain how.

Hit or Myth?

Ask the average person working within hearing care what type of person they should show in their advertising or consumer communications and they will tell you it should be a typical hearing aid user. Why? Because (they will tell you) it makes their communication relevant to their target audience, or so the argument goes. Ask them what the people in those images should be doing and they'll suggest something along the lines of "things the typical retired person enjoys"… playing with the grandchildren, bridge, going for walks in the woods. No doubt you'll have seen the pictures.

If you suggest to them that using such images exclude working people, or people who consider themselves to be younger, the typical response will be, "We can start showing younger people once attitudes in society have changed and we start seeing younger people coming forward."

If you have colleagues telling you such things, please be assured that they are misguided; it is based on faulty logic and a misunderstanding about human behaviour.

Think about it: if those people were right then dentists would show crooked, yellow teeth in their brochures; dieting advertisements would show people with obesity; anti-ageing products would show wrinkly faces to entice us to use them; weight training programmes would show us the type of physique that gets you picked last for the team. But they don't, because they know that's not how these things work.

So why do we think hearing healthcare is any different? It isn't. But for years we have been basing our marketing assumptions on a series of self-perpetuating myths.

Myth #1 There is such a thing as a typical hearing aid user.

If that's what we believe, we are a stereotyping. And people avoid situations where they will be stereotyped. So we can say goodbye to our potential audience.1

Myth #2 Your audience is retired

Listen to the way manufacturers and hearing care professionals talk and you'd believe that most of our potential market is retired. Actually, 60% of those who self-report a reduction in their hearing range in the US are below retirement age2 ; in UK it's around 54%3. And this percentage will increase as the age of retirement increases. When we focus "on those who are retired" we are automatically telling those of working age to stay away…"This product is not for you… Wait till you are older."

(Is it merely a coincidence that in the 2008 MarkeTrak Study the average age for non-adopters in the US was 59.9 years (i.e. below retirement age) versus 71.1 for adopters (i.e. retirement age)?)4

Myth #3 People respond best to imagery that portrays them as they are

We mistakenly believe they will better identify with our imagery if we represent them 'as accurately as possible'; we see it as building a rapport with pictures. But this is a false premise. People spend far more time looking at other people than they do themselves, and they actively do things to change what they see in the mirror to better reflect what they like about others! The fashion and beauty industry are founded on this principle!

People best respond instead to images that make them look good in front of others, to how they want to see themselves — beautiful teeth, not crooked ones; young skin, not wrinkly. When we show people struggling or having grown old or looking foolish because of hearing problems we stigmatize our audience, because if anyone responds to such an image they are admitting that they identify with that image, an image that others are laughing at. We often complain in hearing care about there being a stigma; but often it's us that's put it there. Time we stopped it.

Myth #4 The main purpose of our imagery is to portray our customers

It's not. It's about creating positive associations in people's minds. It's about transferring the traits of one thing onto another. Do we want people to see our product as "retired"? Or as something to joke about? Think of the traits we could be transferring instead, traits we want people to assume when they think about hearing technology.

We need to banish these myths to the past and formulate our own, more fit-for-purpose guidelines.

This is what we will look at in We Reap What We Show: Part 2.


  1. Lee, Kyoungmi, Hakkyun Kim, and Kathleen D. Vohs. Stereotype Threat in the Marketplace: Consumer Anxiety and Purchase Intentions. Journal of Consumer Research, (in press) DOI: 10.1086/659315
  2. 20Q: 25 Years of MarkeTrak - The Highlights
  3. This is based on self-reported prevalence rates in EuroTrak 2009 then applying these to the UK population figures by age from the Office of National Statistics.
  4. Kochkin, S (2012); MarkeTrak VIII: The Key Influencing Factors in Hearing Aid Purchase Intent. Hearing Review March 2012.
Stay Informed

When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.

We reap what we show – Part 2
Best practice, or bloat?