Deafness in Disguise Washington University School of Medicine Becker Medical Library

Marketing of Hearing Devices

Early marketing efforts for hearing devices in Europe and the United States were confined to trade and medical catalogs with limited mass market advertising.

George Tiemann & Co. catalog, 1889
Title page of The American Armamentarium Chirurgicum, 1889
This 800+ page Tiemann & Co. catalog offered the most comprehensive listing of medical and surgical instruments and equipment available in the late 19th century. Included in the aural section were a variety of ear trumpets and conversation tubes.
Hawksley catalogue, 1895
Hawksley Catalogue of Otacoustical Instruments, 3rd edition, 1895
The Hawksley catalog sold for a sixpence and featured a wide assortment of hearing devices. Aids were divided by classifications, such as sound collectors, disguised aids, conversation tubes, bone conduction aids, and table instruments.
F.C. Rein & Son advertisement
Advertisement for F. C. Rein & Son
F. C. Rein & Son, founded in London in 1800, was one of the first and most prominent manufacturers of hearing devices in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Hawksley advertisement
Hawksley advertisement
Advertisements like this for T. Hawksley Ltd. frequently appeared in medical journals, alongside advertisements for schools for the deaf, correspondence classes, and homes for deaf children.

Marketing directed at the consumer was evident by the 1930s and 1940s when hearing aid advertisements were noted in popular magazines such as Life, the Saturday Evening Post, Newsweek, National Geographic and Colliers, and in newspapers.

General Audiphone Company advertisement, 1933
In 1933 the General Audiphone Company advertised its “Tiny Tim Audiphone” in The Volta Review, a journal published since 1910 by the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. Though now a research and scientific journal covering the field of hearing loss, The Volta Review was initially an illustrated monthly magazine for educators and parents of the deaf.
Paravox advertisement, 1947
Paravox and other manufacturers tried to appeal to consumers by creating familiar characters in their advertisements. In this ad, “Poor Harry” is nervous and irritable, screaming through life, until he gets a Paravox hearing aid.
Aurex newspaper advertisement, 1950
This Aurex advertisement ran in the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1950.
Paravox advertisement, 1947
This Paravox announcement from 1947 publicized the many national magazines in which Paravox ran advertisements. The magazines included both general interest titles such as Newsweek, Time, and The Saturday Evening Post, and more specialized journals such as the Poultry Tribune, The Progressive Farmer, the Elks Magazine, and the Christian Journal.

The 1950s was the golden era in the marketing of hearing devices. Marketing for hearing aids was focused on dispelling the perception of bulky hearing aids for the estimated six million hearing impaired individuals in the United States. With the technological advancement of the transistor in the late 1940s and the subsequent miniaturization of batteries, hearing aids became smaller and more powerful – enabling many hearing impaired individuals to potentially benefit from the newer hearing aids.

Sonotone advertisement from the 1950s This advertisement from Sonotone shows the evolution of hearing styles from the 1850s to the 1950s.

Courtesy of Sonotone

Size was heavily emphasized in marketing of hearing devices to show the ease of use and portability of the new hearing aids. Manufacturers used everyday items such as watches, keys, matches, rulers and cigarettes for size comparison.

Maico Top-Secret advertisement
The Maico “Top-Secret” featured a top-placed, recessed microphone that would not come in contact with clothing. Introduced in 1951, the “Top-Secret” was “so tiny that it lies in your palm – scarcely larger than a watch – so easy to tuck away that you can forget all about it.”

Beltone Harmony Mono-Pac advertisement

Courtesy Beltone Electronics Corporation

Beltone introduced the Harmony Mono-Pac in 1946. The advertising copy stated “Everything in one tiny unit, about 1/3 size and weight of old-style hearing aids – scarcely larger than a pack of cards.”

Zenith Royal advertisement

Courtesy of Zenith Electronics Corporation

The Zenith “Royal” was introduced in 1951 and retailed for just $75.00. The aid was “tiny, light weight, in beautiful golden finish.”
Micronic Model 202 advertisement
The Micronic Model 202 was advertised as the “smallest and lightest hearing aid on the market today” when it was introduced in 1948. This ad compared the aid to a pack of cigarettes. The Micronic Model 202 was only two inches wide, four inches long, and three-quarter inch “slim.”

Paravox 'Xtra-Thin hearing aid advertisement
The Paravox ’Xtra-Thin debuted in 1946 as “the thinnest one-case (metal), one-cord, vacuum-tube hearing aid, using the most economical batteries, the ‘Eveready’ ‘Mini-Max,’ and the only internal-type plastic chassis.”
Sonotone Model 900 advertisement

Courtesy of Sonotone

The Sonotone miniature “All-in-One” Model 900 debuted in late 1947. The promotional copy stated that the 900 was “so small and feather-light it’s no more trouble to wear than your wristwatch.”

Otarion Whisperwate advertisement
The “Whisperwate” from Otarion came on the market in 1950 with the “revolutionary new Tone-O-matic control.” The Whisperwate was Otarion’s smallest aid to date, not much larger than a book of matches and weighing less than three and one-half ounces with the batteries.
View an Object VR movie of the Whisperwate

Radioear Zephyr advertisement

Courtesy of Radioear (in business since 1924)

Radioear’s Model 82 “Zephyr” debuted in 1952 with its “ultra-tiny case.” Advertisements emphasized that the aid was “much smaller than a man’s pocket-ware” and “even tinier than a lady’s handbag accessories.”

“Smaller than your fondest expectations . . .”

— Otarion “Whisperwate” promotional copy, 1950

The human hand was a great means of demonstrating size comparison.

Advertisement for Beltone Monopac L, 1952

Courtesy Beltone Electronics Corporation

Advertisement for the Beltone Monopac L (Lyric), 1952

Advertisement for the Paravox Top Twin Tone hearing aid
Advertisement for the Paravox Top Twin Tone hearing aid, 1950

Publicity photo for the Sonotone Model 222 hearing aid, 1957

Courtesy of Sonotone

Publicity photo for the Sonotone Model 222, 1957
“Amazing Hearing Aid Progress” was the headline for the Sonotone press release: “Here’s the difference between the new Sonotone ‘222’ – worn entirely in the ear – and a hearing aid of only 12 years ago. The 1945 model (right) weighed 20 ounces as worn. The large transmitter was worn on the body and a thick cord led to a receiver in the ear. External batteries were strapped to the body or legs and connected to the transmitter by another cord. The Sonotone ‘222’ (left) is 40 times lighter. It weighs only half an ounce with battery. It’s worn entirely in the ear by men and women.”
Beltone publicity photo

Courtesy Beltone Electronics Corporation

Publicity photo from Beltone Electronics Corporation

Advertisement for the Otarion Whisperwate hearing aid
Advertisement for the Otarion “Whisperwate” hearing aid, 1950

Advertisement for the Dahlberg Jr. hearing aid
Advertisement for the Dahlberg Jr. (Model D-2) hearing aid, 1951

And if using everyday objects did not help with size comparison, these advertising inserts based on actual sizes of hearing aids did the trick.

Hearing Aid promotional brochures Micronic Mercury hearing aid promotional brochure Rochester Miniature hearing aid promotional brochure Gem Ear Model 70 promotional brochure Promotional card for the Sonotone Model 940 hearing aid Promotional card for the Sonotone Model 910 hearing aid Zenith Royal promotional brochure Microtone Classic hearing aid promotional brochure

Promotional brochures courtesy of Sonotone and Zenith Electronics Corporation

Names of hearing aid models reflected the size theme with names such as “Hidette,” “Secrette,” “Invisible Ear,” “Phantom,” “Midget,” “Hidden Ear,” “Unseen Ear,” “Thumbelina,” “Veri-Small,” and “Hide-A-Way.”

“It has not been many years since deafness and impairment of hearing occasioned ridicule and derisive laughter. The use of the old-fashioned trumpet provoked amusement, and some regarded the condition as a prelude to imbecility or senility. Therefore, it is little wonder that manufacturers of hearing aids today, bent on marketing their wares, make use of advertising with claims, sometimes implicit, often explicit, that ‘nothing shows,’ ‘that “one’s hearing is hidden,” ’ and that nothing is carried around that will reveal a handicapping hearing loss.”

— Council on Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 1951

Bob Hope advertisement for Paravox


The influence of Hollywood was at its apex after World War II with marketing materials emphasizing glamour and style. Celebrities such as Bob Hope and Mary Pickford were used to tout the uses of hearing aids and many models of hearing aids reflected the Hollywood theme such as “Hollywood Veri-Small” and “Starlet.”

Radioear advertisement for the Starlet hearing aid
Sonotone advertisement

Courtesy of Radioear (in business since 1924)

Courtesy of Sonotone

Paravox, Inc. enlisted the help of Hollywood celebrities to promote their hearing aids. A Paravox in-house public relations memo outlines the use of celebrities as a means of reaching out to those who would benefit from a hearing aid:

“. . . it is a step forward in a program to arouse a realization in the hard of hearing people that other people are interested in their problems. If, for example, a hard of hearing person reads that Bob Hope or Mary Pickford have a favorable opinion of hearing aids, isn’t it possible that his or her reluctance to wear an aid may be reduced?”

“It is gratifying to know that with Paravox hearing aids the hard of hearing, everywhere, may now enjoy my radio and moving picture shows.”

— Bob Hope

“I am glad that with Paravox hearing aids more people may now hear dialogue on the screen but more important they may also hear their family and friends.”

— Mary Pickford

Even Eleanor Roosevelt was used to reach out to millions who could benefit as featured in this Beltone Hearing Aid Company pamphlet.

Beltone hearing aid advertisement featuring Eleanor Roosevelt, 1952 “I will acknowledge that for a woman a hearing aid is a little more trouble to carry about than it is for a man  . . . But when the day comes when I can’t hear people around me I certainly will not make my family shout at me. I will wear a hearing aid no matter what inconvenience I may find in carrying the paraphernalia.”

Courtesy Beltone Electronics Corporation

Manufacturers’ claims were limitless. “You look younger-you feel younger . . . helps erase that frown which comes from concentrating . . . permits a relaxed posture – ends that forward thrust of the head, that tendency to sit on the edge of your chair . . . makes school marks better . . . your job safer . . . your sales will go up . . . your domestic life happier . . . you will be happy . . . your children better behaved.”

Paravox advertisement
Paravox flyer featuring fictional user’s testimonials and how Paravox hearing aids expanded their usual “HEARzone.”
Beltone advertisement, 1950

Courtesy Beltone Electronics Corporation

This Beltone pamphlet described how their hearing aids would enable users to “enjoy normal family life again,” “enjoy greater business success,” “enjoy happy social life again,” and “enjoy church, radio, movies, music again.”

Paravox advertisement featuring user testimonial
Consumer advisor Doris Foster claimed “I won at least 2 extra years of hearing happiness” in this flyer for the Paravox Tiny-Myte hearing aid.
Beltone brochure describing the benefits of a Beltone hearing aid Beltone brochure describing the benefits of a Beltone hearing aid

Courtesy of Beltone Electronics Corporation

This 1952 Beltone brochure promised hearing aid users no less than the opportunity to “say good-bye to the handicaps of hearing loss.” According to the advertising copy, the tiny new Beltone Model L could provide “the difference between happiness and loneliness,” “the difference between self-confidence and self-consciousness,” “the difference between peace of mind and worry,” and “the difference between normal recreation and isolation.”
Paravox advertisement for triple-testedVeri-small hearing aid, 1949


Another marketing angle was to stress the durability of a hearing aid. According to this 1949 advertisement, not only could the Paravox Veri-Small model withstand pressure of 2,400 pounds, it could remain intact after being dropped 600 feet from an airplane.




Not all these claims by manufacturers went unnoticed by the Federal Trade Commission. In the early 1930s the FTC was charged with the responsibility for the regulation of advertising and sales practices of hearing aids. For the time period of 1934 to 1976 the FTC issued sixty-six orders against hearing aid manufacturers for false or misleading advertising claims. Nearly forty percent of these orders were issued in the 1950s for phrases such as:

Technological innovation was a primary focus of hearing aid marketing during the latter half of the 20th century. Integrated circuits, directional microphones, and the introduction of zinc air batteries in 1977, along with an increased sense of consumerism led to new strategies for marketing of hearing aids. Miniaturization of hearing aids led to the canal type hearing aids which allowed hearing aids to be completely worn in the ear. More recent developments such as directional microphones, flexible digital programming and adaptive filtering provide users with the best of both worlds – an effective hearing aid that is also virtually unnoticeable.

As in the 1950s the use of prominent persons helped in increasing awareness of hearing loss and encouraging others to wear hearing aids. When Ronald Reagan first appeared in public in 1983 wearing an in-the-ear hearing aid, sales of hearing aid increased. Actors such as Lorne Greene, Nanette Fabray, Tom Bosley and Leslie Nielsen were used in advertising campaigns for promotion of healthy hearing and hearing aids.

Better Hearing Institute advertisement featuring actor Leslie Nielsen
Oticon advertisement, 1978

© Eriksholm Collection - Oticon A/S



Durability continued to be emphasized, as in this 1978 advertisement for Oticon hearing aids.

And, as noted in these advertisements, concealment is still a common theme in marketing today.

Bernafon Charisma advertisement, 1986
Viennatone advertisement

Image courtesy of Viennatone Hearing Technology GmbH, Vienna, Austria

Rayovac advertisement for hearing aid batteries

© Courtesy of Rayovac

Maico Prodigy advertisement, 1995