How about a "personal communication assistant"?
Or "the ultimate high-tech accessory"?
Can you hear me now?
Audéo, a new "state-of-the-art sound processing tool," is targeting baby boomers with a slick direct-mail campaign featuring this stubble-jawed, multiply tattooed fellow and three other equally unconventional spokespersons, including a man in a business suit, a black eye, and a swollen lip. The message: "You've always experienced everything life has to offer. Why stop now?"
(The message also includes this Deep Thought, which puzzled me: "Because hearing is inversely proportional to your life experience." Doesn't inversely proportional mean "the better your hearing, the worse your life experience"? Don't they mean directly proportional? Just asking.)
Because nothing turns off a boomer like intimations of geezerhood, Audéo carefully avoids taboo words like hearing loss or, heaven forfend, deaf. Instead, it invites us to "test drive" a "sleek, stylish, and discreet" product. We're not getting old; rather, "a full and active life" may have interfered with our perception of "subtle but crucial high pitched sounds." Wear your Audéo proudly: it's "a sign of life lived with intensity."
In other words: you sat in the front row at a few too many Springsteen concerts, and now you're paying the price, baby.
Oh yeah, the price: $3,000 per ear--according to Business Week, approximately double the cost of conventional hearing aids. But conventional hearing aids are bulky and beige; Audéo has the streamlined look of a small-scale Bluetooth earpiece and comes in 15 designerish color combos that "complement your personal lifestyle" and have names like Green with Envy, Pinot Noir, Fiery Temper, and--you knew this was coming--Flower Power.
Audéo's parent company is Swiss-based Phonak, the world's third-largest manufacturer of hearing aids; Phonak also makes the "entry-level" Una, the Supero, the Perseo, and the Savia. (According to Business Week, Phonak is changing its corporate name to the "brand-neutral" Sonova in August.) David Copithorne of Hearing Mojo, a blog that reports on hearing-loss issues, writes that the industry is highly concentrated, with only six or seven major manufacturers of hearing aids worldwide. All of them face the challenge that Phonak's CEO, Valentin Chapero, described to Business Week: "It's very difficult when you are making a product that actually nobody wants." Phonak's strategy seems to be borrowed from Bang & Olufsen: invest heavily in design, surround the product with voodoo copywriting, and raise the price so high that only rich people will be able to afford it--thus making it an object of desire and envy.
Will it work? I'd be the last to underestimate the vanity and profligacy of my generation. And with several hundred boomers turning 60 every minute, and 10 percent of the world's population having hearing problems, there may well be a large enough customer base for Phonak to succeed with a luxury sonic prosthetic.
As they say back in Phonak's headquarters in Stäfa, Switzerland, “Ooni Lüüt gaat nüüt”--"Nothing works without people."
At least, that's what Phonak says they say. I can't quite hear it myself.