When I was a little girl, my grandfather’s wife, Bertha, refused to wear a hearing aid. She was deaf as a post and during family get-togethers, the irritating exchange frequently went something like this:
GRANDPA: …and then when all the kids were gathered around the fire, my father…
BERTHA: What’s that, Bob? What did you say?
GRANDPA (louder): …when all the kids were gathered around…
BERTHA (even louder): Speak up louder, Bob. I can’t hear you.
GRANDPA (even louder): …I said, when all the kids were gathered around the fire…
BERTHA (shouting): Bob, I can’t hear you.
GRANDPA (with dismissive hand gesture): Aw, shit. Never mind.
My brother and I would titter over the use of that naughty word, but the group of us would then lapse into uncomfortable silence and before long, Mom and Dad would find a reason for us to leave early.
Although I’m not making excuses for Bertha, hearing aids in those days were large, unattractive and there was the stigma of old age attached to wearing them. Now, that is about to change.
The Energizer company has hired 80’s singer Pat Benatar to be the spokesperson for their hearing-aid batteries. Baby boomers are reaching an age when all that concert-going is catching up with them and the marketers are working on making hearing aids cool.
A good number of celebrities have spoken up about their hearing loss, most notably in recent times, Rush Limbaugh. President Reagan wore hearing aids during his tenure as president and Bill Clinton finally gave in to tiny, almost invisible hearing aids in 1997 while he was still in the White House.
A lot of musicians suffer from tinnitus, which can be a severe hearing impairment. Those admitting to it include Barbra Streisand, Sting, Cher, Eric Clapton and Late Night host, David Letterman. Phil Collins stopped touring because of his hearing loss.
Marketers are counting on celebrity endorsements such as Benatar’s, along with baby boomers’ sheer numbers, to make hearing aids as cool as wearing the right kind of eyeglasses. I have no doubt they will succeed.
Marketing can be cynical business which too frequently creates phony trends, but some of what they do, like this campaign, is actually useful. If this one had come along about 50 years ago, I might have learned a lot more family lore.