Misleading advertising lands Oticon and Sonic innovations stiff fine in Australia



The hearing aid industry has been handed a strong warning on inaccurate advertising following an Australian federal court decision to fine retailers Oticon Australia and Sonic Innovations A$2.5 million for misleading vulnerable pensioners.

The sentence came at the end of proceedings begun in September for an action taken by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). The watchdog body pressed its complant over newspaper advertisements for hearing aids sold by AudioClinic and HearingLife clinics.

And the court upheld the action against the William Demant Holding group subsidiaries, Oticon and Sonic, who admitted that ads published 85 times in newspapers around Australia from June to November 2017 contained three false and misleading representations about hearing aids made available to card-holding pensioners and forces veterans through the Australian Government Hearing Services Program.

One of the adverts offered a free hearing aid at AudioClinic or Hearing Life centres on application for a hearing test before the advertisement deadline; but no such deadline exists. Another claim stated that free hearing aids included wireless connectivity technology, when in fact these are additional extras. Finally, ads falsely claimed that users of the featured hearing aid would not miss out on conversations, something that depends on the individual circumstances of users and the nature of their hearing loss.

The Court also ordered by consent that Sonic and Oticon offer refunds to customers who purchased ConnectLine and SoundGate3 accessories, publish a corrective notice in a nationally circulated newspaper, and establish an Australian Consumer Law compliance program.

ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said: “The misleading representations by Sonic and Oticon created a false sense of urgency for these consumers to book a hearing test and led them into a sales process based on incorrect information.”

Source: ACCC