Is There A Hole In Your Hearing?

Last week I captured a dinosaur. That is, I added an old CRT (tube) TV to my retro video game room. It wasn’t huge, but it was heavy. I forklifted it in because it lets me play some old games that do not play well with flat screen TVs.

Once it was lugged into its final resting place, I plugged in my Intellivision and started playing some classics. A few minutes later, my 19 -year old daughter entered the room with a grimace on her face. “What is that high-pitched noise?” she asked, gritting her teeth. I immediately suspected the new, old TV. Sure enough, she and I experimented, and it didn’t take long to prove that the tube TV was emitting a high pitched squeal that was making her head hurt. My 15-year old confirmed it. Here’s the weird part – my wife and I didn’t hear a thing.

Now we’ve all heard about how you lose the ability to hear certain frequencies as you get older (just like you lose the ability to watch a romantic comedy without nodding off), but I wanted to make sure that the TV itself wasn’t getting ready to kick the bucket. I went online, and I had my answer in seconds. Evidently, all tube TV’s made this sound (at least until the very end of the tube TV era when they started to use a different refresh rate). You can read about the culprit – something called a flyback transformer – here ( It was less about my age and more about the fact that I had been around hundreds of tube TVs during my formative years. The result was a very narrow, very specific “hole” in my hearing range – I’ve developed hearing loss at the exact frequency that CRT TVs emit. In fact, pretty much everybody that grew up with a tube TV has the same issue. If you’re over the age of thirty, you almost certainly can’t hear this sound because you’ve already heard it too much.

But if you are a 20-year-old who grew up with only LCD/LED TV’s, then old-school tube TVs definitely get your attention.

Is there a point to this story? Maybe it’s something about how tough we old fogies are because we didn’t cry about little things like high-pitched screeching or having to use the rewind button or drinking TAB cola even though it tasted like carpet glue. But probably not. The moral of this story is that when you hear something over and over, you lose the ability to hear it. In business – especially in marketing – that can be a very dangerous thing.

We’ve had clients who have had products or brands with significant deficiencies who were so used to rationalizing them that they no longer considered them deficiencies. Then they hire us and there is moment of truth. Since we are new to the situation, we don’t suffer from the same “hearing loss” as the client. As a result, we point out the shortcomings in the brand and decisions need to be made about how to address them. For example, we helped a bank do some research a few years ago and they learned that potential customers regarded them as “old guys in suits.” They were intimidating. Want to know what they did? They totally rebranded the bank and its products. I have never been so proud of a bunch of “old guys in suits.” They trusted us to hear the frequencies that they could no longer hear, and the results were very successful.

On the other hand, we’ve had clients who got defensive when we discussed areas in their branding that needed to be addressed. These situations almost always end in disappointment. Contrary to popular belief, it’s nearly impossible to convince people that a brand is something that it is not. If you and your team don’t live your branding message every day, it’s very possible that you will be missing some annoying screeching sounds that everybody else hears (“People hate our return policy? I had no idea!”).

It helps to have an outside set of ears listening to the story of your brand. They don’t need to be young ears (this isn’t TV repair, after all), but they do need to be trained to listen for problems – and experienced in fixing them.