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direct marketing campaign advertised as a "study" but just a way to sell 1 hearing aid...
Published on May 4, 2007 By Sean Conners aka SConn1 In Misc
"Cnet" does a great job of exposing online scams. As does organization and websites like and And most of us are aware of the email scams about making millions from some dude in africa who only wants you to do a money transfer for him or respond to "phishing" scams and whatnot.

Of course, those scams continue because not everyone is aware, and even some that are let their greed get the best of them sometimes.

But most of us are not prepared to be scammed by people and businesses we trust. Especially the world's largest retailer.

This morning, I got a snail mail with "personal health notice" being on the front of the mail. Since I had just set up a physical for myself 2 days ago, I opened the mail, thinking it may pertain to that. The return address was from a "field trial office" in nearby Elkton, Md. which is about 5 miles or so from my home in Newark, De.

Upon opening the mail, which was no easy task, The top of the mail had the headline "Having trouble Hearing?"

Well, being a musician since I was just beyond a toddler, and being exposed to loud noise back before everyone started recommending ear plugs, yeah, my hearing is "less than par."

I read on...

The letter told me that a major US supplier of hearing aids was conducting a field test of it's new product. The letter went on to say that I was eligible to participate in this study, but I'd better hurry, as only 20 local residents would be permitted, allegedly.

they asked the typical questions, like if you had experienced difficulties like misunderstanding words in conversation? (me: yes, occasionally) And do you have to turn the TV up? (me: sure, but that's due to my kids more than anything else, lol) And do you hear buzzing or high pitched tones in your ear? (me: since my teens)

Then they asked if I would be willing to have my hearing tested by a "hearing instrument specialist" to determine whether their product would help?

I looked up to see what a "hearing aid specialist" exactly was, and what was required. From what I gathered, in a short burst of research, was that the term was primarily used in Wisconsin and a few other states. It seemed to be equated with an "audiologist" in those states.

I looked for specific statutes in Maryland and found they had revamped their law just this year. And in their law, there is no mention of such a position. But some states did use the term interchangeably, so for now, I was willing to let that slide as a "terminology" thing that didn't carry much weight other than for "nitpicking" purposes.

I went back to the snail mail and continued to read....

They then asked me if I would be willing to wear the product (a hearing aid, in my ear) for 30 days?

Fair enough, I would assume testing something would mean me trying it out for an extended period, and 30 days seems reasonable.

Now this is where the "study" goes away and the "direct marketing" takes over....

IN any scientific study, a participant is either compensated for their time and trouble or given free stuff, like they can keep whatever they are testing. Sometimes, due to regulation, a product still not ready for market situation or whatnot, a product might not be keepable by the test subject, but in that case, usually the compensation is offered in leiu of that.

But here we get another pitch. The generous people at this field testing office are authorized to let me keep this great product, not for free, but @ a "tremendous savings off the "manufacturer's suggested retail price." "

Now anyone who has spent more than 20 minutes in sales knows that almost nothing in this world is sold at MSRP. The only things that can even dare to ask that are primarily rare, and/or high end products. MSRP is more of a way for a manufacturer to "sell" you on the idea that they are being benevolent by charging less than they could. A MSRP is really suggesting that if someone else, who wasn't as nice, or the company's competition were to make this fabulous product, then this is the amount they would charge you.

Consumers use an MSRP number to tell themselves that they are a good bargain hunter and smart shopper. The psychology of it is that people feel like thay got a "deal" if they pay less than MSRP.

So, what this company was in effect offering was the following...

a) a hearing aid that they are selling, not studying

an offer for you to come in and get a "free" (they are anyway) hearing test.

c) 30 days for you to try it, BUT, during those 30 days, you will be questioned and have your brain picked. At the end of the 30 days, the marketer will have all the information he needs to either keep that product "out the door" or move you to another product. In either case, they get the sale.

By doing it as a "study" they can achieve several objectives that salespeople often wrestle with....

a) consumer's guard is down. their usual skepticism in a salesman is replaced with a trust in a technician. But in fact, the technician and salesperson are either one in the same, or working together for profit.

get you used to the product, so you can't live without it. In the car business, we used to call that "puppydogging." It is the practice of letting a customer take the car home for a night or weekend or pre-determined amount of time. the effect, 95% of the time, is that the customer takes the car home and gets used to driving it. Usually, the customer's previous car, even if it wasn't a "wreck" had some significant driving flaws to it. Even if the customer claims his trade in is the greatest thing ever on 4 wheels. When the customer gets used to driving something that doesn't have those flaws, going back is not an option. The customer loses that negotiating tact of claiming they are"perfectly fine with their old car." Plus, the pride and envy and so forth that takes place when your neighbors see that new car in your driveway has a big effect on that car staying in the driveway. When your neighbor says joking that they are glad you "finally got rid of that old piece of sh*t" it becomes quite embarrassing to put that old piece of sh*t back in front of your house.

In this transaction, the effect is much the same. It might not be your neighbor subliminally changing your mind, but regardless of where your hearing is, the aid should make it better. After it's better, you won't go back...and "stretching" to afford something you were previously convinced that you couldn't afford will now be an option that didn't exist 30 days ago.

And better hearing is indeed a good thing. I don't think many would argue with that. But this is sleazy to use the guise of scientific study to sell hearing aids. It is a marketing scam.

And who is it that is pulling this fast one? Is it some off the beaten path, desperate company who is merely trying to stay afloat? No. Is it the government? No. It is the most profitable retailer in the world. It is Wal Mart.

At the bottom of the letter, it finally reveals their identity, unlike the generic "field test office" that is on the outside. They tell you to contact the Wal Mart in Elkton, Md.

So Wal Mart is in the hearing aid business. Maybe they were before, I don't know, but it's clear they are now. And remember, Wal Mart doesn't just sell stuff...they sell more stuff than anyone else. Their goal is to move more product than anyone else in every category they sell. This is one factor they use to negotiate with suppliers. And it is their promise of higher volume that encourages suppliers to discount more for Wal Mart than other competing retailers.

So, I guess Wal Mart has decided they want to sell more hearing aids than anyone else. And that's a fine, albeit lofty goal.

The problem is their marketing scam. The problem is the false use of science to schlock hearing aids to people who were not recommended by a doctor to get one, but rather a Wal Mart bulk mailing that was guised as scientific research.

Now, unlike the African and phishing scams, people aren't being bilked out of millions or having their identity stolen. But they are being lied to. they are being duped into thinking something is one thing, when it is indeed another. They are not being offered real choices. the fact is that I can walk into the Elkton wal Mart and have the same free test done and then look at some hearing aids and make an informed choice. Their scam has me call, like I am setting up a doctor's appointment, then take that same free test, then be pushed into the 1 hearing aid they want to sell me "at a significant discount." I'm sure, based on my experience in sales and marketing, they are not going thru all this to lose money. I'd be willing to bet that this aid is in fact more profitable at a discount, than many others.

I don't know if it's a crime or not, that is for others to decide. But it is sleazy, in my view. Wal Mart should immediately halt this sleazzy marketing scheme and find a more honest way to hustle hearing aids.


on May 04, 2007
just a bump