Getting Personal
Posted: 03.01.05 - By Michelle Maisto

The American International Toy Fair celebrated its 100th anniversary in New York City last week, and generating much buzz, along with the Rudy Boesch “Survivor” action figure and the Vapo-Blaster bubble gun, was a product from Scholastic-owned Klutz: the Dial With Style cell phone decorator kit.

For $12.95, girls 11 years and older can adorn and fully personalize their phones with beads, stickyback sparkling jewels, woven dangling decorations and cool blue cell gel (removable, write the kit’s authors, by scraping with a fingernail) and offering strong evidence that cell phones are the new bedroom door—the place where teens and pre-teens put their full expression on display. And while there may be no accounting for taste, there is certainly accounting for the bottom line.

Personalization is an enormous mobile industry trend, and the youth market is no exception. Neither is it, researchers are discovering, anything to take lightly.

London-based mobileYouth is a four-year-old research consultancy providing youth market news and information to such clients as Vodafone, Nokia, Orange and Disney. It reports that in the United States in 2004, 190,000 children under the age of 10 had a mobile phone, and the figure is set to double over the course of 2005. Among 10- to 14-year-olds, 5.5 million had mobile phones, which is also predicted to rise by 2 million in 2005. And more significantly, the relevancy of these numbers extends beyond service contracts and phones, which are usually paid for by parents. mobileYouth reports that American 10-year-olds spend 12 percent of their pocket money on mobile-related products, and 10- to 14-year-olds spend 39 percent—which equates to a staggering $2.5 billion.

The significant and continued reception of personalization production was also a theme in Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications Trends: Predictions, 2005 report. “The most compelling and lucrative mobile content will likely continue to be ringtones (already a $2 billion industry), wallpaper and other simple forms of personalization and self-expression,” its authors wrote.

Expanding on the TMT prediction “simplicity sells,” Paul Lee, director of Deloitte Research, offered the example, in a recent phone call, of mobile phone screensavers gaining popularity over streaming video. “You can do television through a mobile phone,” said Lee, “but it’s a bit of an engineer’s challenge, and I don’t think consumer demand for it is that great. Whereas what sells is very, very basic screensavers, which may just be images of sports stars or pop stars.”

For example, when England won the Rugby World Cup last year, one company created a suite of content—three screensaver images and a ringtone—featuring the game’s hero, Jonny Wilkinson. “It’s something that costs very little to create and is very simple, but people like to buy it to personalize their phones—it gives them a satisfaction that is greater than downloading, say, images of that rugby match,” says Lee. “They sold [the suite] for £4.5, so about $9, and it sold very well. The return on investment was massive.”

For more information on the youth market’s role in the mobile industry, look for mobileYouth’s 2005 annual report, which will be released at the CTIA conference in New Orleans, March 13 through 16.


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