Now Hear This: OTC Creates Opportunity

Hearing aids became available over the counter in the U.S. in October 2022, making them more accessible and lowering prices. The change has enticed consumer electronics companies including Bose and Sony, who see potential in the market and are entering the category alongside the traditional specialist marketers.

A few collaborations are starting to emerge in this space as well, both in the U.S. and internationally. These are not tied to the new OTC distribution possibilities, although that will likely help propel more partnerships in the U.S. going forward. Instead, most are driven by a desire to destigmatize hearing loss, a condition that affects all ages.

Hearing aid-related collaborations fall into two basic areas: jewelry that enhances the look of a hearing aid—the most common configuration—and stylish versions of the device itself:

  • DeafMetal, a U.K. company that specializes in jewelry to accessorize and highlight hearing aids and cochlear implant processors, partnered with hearing aid marketer Hidden Hearing in 2022 for a LoveYourEars jewelry collection. Each piece in the line of six styles connects to the back of the auditory device on one end and to an earring on the other. The jewelry is sold in high street stores, online, and in select Hidden Hearing centers, and is available in sets of two or as singles, the latter for consumers who wear only one device. Prices range from £55 to £75 ($68 to $93).
  • DeafMetal was also involved in another 2022 collaboration, this time with U.K.-based Bijoux de Mimi, a TikTok-favorite company launched in 2020 to create inexpensive jewelry for Gen X, and the non-profit group Living with Hearing Loss. The brightly colored, three-piece Pink Noise collection was designed specifically to enhance hearing aids and cochlear implants, with 20% of proceeds donated to Living with Hearing Loss.
  • Chella Man, an inclusivity and accessibility influencer, artist, actor, and activist who is deaf, launched a line of ear jewelry in 2021 in collaboration with streetwear brand Private Policy. The four-piece capsule, called The Beauty of Being Deaf, consists of gold-plated earpieces that draw attention to the ears, and to the hearing aids being used.
  • In an early example back in 2015, Advance Style, a brand devoted to improving the image of aging, paired with hearing aid company Audicus to create a limited edition of hearing aids-as-fashion accessories in bright patterns including black-and-white polka dots, pink glitter, leopard, and silver hologram. Deals such as this, that elevate the appearance of the devices themselves, are likely to multiply in the more competitive OTC hearing aid market, where brands will need to find a way to stand out and make the product more appealing to drive sales.

Licensing also plays a role in consumer electronics brands’ entry into the hearing aid space. HP, for example, partnered with Nuheara, an Australian company best known for its wireless earbuds that enhance hearing. The two companies are producing a line of HP-branded hearing aids that combine the benefits of a true hearing aid with the noise cancelation, water resistance, and other features of the earbuds.

An estimated 30 million people in the U.S. and 12 million in the U.K. are dealing with hearing loss. But it is estimated that only 20% of consumers in the U.S. who would benefit from a device are actually using one, due to the cost, the stigma, and other factors. OTC availability, along with a growing range of fashionable, cost-effective options—with licensing and collaborations likely in the mix—could help change that, especially for younger consumers and those with moderate hearing loss.

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