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Wireless trend taking hold

By Published on .

High schoolers Heather and Shana sit one evening at a Lake County, Ill., Barnes & Noble playing computerized games on their Nokia cell phones while awaiting a call from friends on where to meet. To them, having a cell phone is not a big deal because the devices are ubiquitous for their age group.

"If you don't have a cell, your friends are like, `How the hell am I going to get a hold of you? Page you or something?"' says 16-year-old Shana, mocking how passe pagers are compared to cell phones.

Cell phone marketers and cellular carriers are recognizing that teens have gone wireless. An array of teen-attracting jelly bean colors, polka dots or smiley faces now adorn the faceplates of cell phones.

The phones can even have a ring tone from the latest hits, including the theme song from teen-fave TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," courtesy of yourmobile.com. And many wireless rate plans, which run the gamut from prepaid to family-friendly, have been developed with the Generation Y-er in mind.

No wonder. About 28% of 10-to-19-year-olds own a wireless phone, vs. a 36% overall penetration rate, according to Yankee Group's 1999 Mobile User Survey. It predicts that wireless use among this age group will grow to 35% by the end of 2001 and hit 68% in the youth/teen population by 2005-surpassing total market penetration levels.

HAVE INFLUENCER ROLES

"Although it is usually the parents who are paying the [cell phone] bill, the younger audience does have an influence on which phone and which wireless provider is chosen," says Greg Roberts, director of marketing and promotions at carrier Cingular Wireless. So it makes sense to target youth.

Yankee Group agrees, saying that of the 28% of the youth market with wireless phones, 72% of the phones are paid for by parents. But parents often rely on their child's input since teens tend to be more technologically savvy than their folks.

ABOUT SELF-EXPRESSION

Cingular, spawned from SBC Communications and BellSouth Corp.'s wireless operations, has done a number of studies with the youth segment, Mr. Roberts says. Cingular "is about self-expression," he says, "and the youth segment is a poster child for self-expression."

Cellular carrier Cingular, in partnership with phone maker Nokia, has done on-campus advertising in high schools. From February through May of this year, it ran posters created by Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, Atlanta. One of its ads that ran in youth-oriented entertainment publications shows a shoe print with the Cingular mascot embedded in the tread, exclaiming, "Stamp out silence."

The company also has sponsored some state basketball tournaments, where it offered phone service activation at the games. High school basketball games "have been the best environment to target the 15- and 18-year-old because both the youth and parent are present," Mr. Roberts says. "And when you have them both at the same place you have the perfect environment."

Among Cingular products and those of its competitors that attract teens are prepaid services, Internet access and family calling plans.

AT&T Wireless promotes a plan that allows unlimited calls between family members and to the home's land-line phone. Verizon Wireless has a similar Family Connection Plan, which provides free, unlimited calls to or from eligible Verizon customers when calling within their home service area.

Verizon mostly targets late teens to young adults, says Mike Ritter, Midwest area VP-marketing. "We have skewed our demographics in media buys slightly younger," he explains. "Traditionally, we did 24 to 55, and now have moved to 18 to 49 with some spillover to 16-year-olds."

MESSENGERING COUNTS

What appeals to the younger market, Mr. Ritter adds, "are things like short message service where they can send messages back and forth, color faceplates and the ability to go into the mobile Web."

Because teens can spend about as much time on the Internet as they do on the phone, Verizon, AT&T Wireless and Spring Corp.'s Sprint PCS are offering mobile Web services with content from teen communications provider Bolt.

Bolt targets 15-to-20-year-olds with its Bolt Everywhere, a teen wireless platform that enables two-way communications, as well as e-mail, voice-mail, voice chat and instant messaging.

"One Bolt user might be a big Britney Spears fan and she creates on Bolt.com a club called the Britney Spears Fan Club," says Bolt CEO Dan Pelson. "She gets hundreds of people to sign up, and when she sends messages to the group members, they can read them on the Internet or their cell phone or both." Currently, Bolt has about 4 million teen-age users. All advertising and marketing is done in-house.

With post-paid services, teens need a parent or guardian to sign the contract. So it's the prepaid services that some carriers direct toward the youth market. Yankee Group predicts that prepaid will account for 28.1% of the overall wireless market by yearend 2003, up from 6% of subscribers today.

There's a lot of potential for marketing prepaid to teens, says Knox Bricken, a Yankee Group analyst who authored an October 2000 report on "Generation Y-erless."

"Prepaid offers children and parents a wireless phone option that enables parents to limit their child's spending and eliminates the responsibility of co-signing an application," she says. "Prepaid also offers children the option of paying for extra minutes if they feel they want more time than their parents are willing to pay for."

The Web site for Rodale's MH-18, the Men's Health spinoff for "teen-age guys," recently launched an e-mail blast giveaway for TracFone, a prepaid service. Maurice Contreras, director of advertising and communications at TracFone, estimates 10% to 20% of its 1 million-plus customer base is aged 14 to 21.

To reach teens, says Mr. Contreras, "last year we aligned with World Championship Wrestling. We went on tour with WCW and sponsored sampling booths where people could make calls anywhere in the U.S."

The bulk of TracFone's teen marketing efforts is concentrated in displays at retail outlets frequented by teens. It boasts colorful displays at Viacom's Blockbuster Video, 7-Eleven and Wal-Mart Stores. The service has strategic partnerships with Motorola and Nokia. "About 90% of our phones are Nokia," Mr. Contreras says.

NOKIA TOPS WITH TEENS

Apparently, Nokia is at the top of the list for cell phones that many teens prefer ever since its product placement in last summer's teen hit film "Charlie's Angels." According to a March Bolt Bus teen market survey, 63% of teens preferred Nokia, up from 47% the previous year.

Nokia Media Relations Manager Keith Nowak claims the company doesn't actively market to anyone under 18 years old, but he adds that the 3300 series phone appeals to the young market because "it has changeable front covers, a ring tone composer and games. The 3360 lets you download new levels for the games. It has Web access, and the messaging has turned out to be very popular with the entry-level age group. That group is used to e-mail and chatting online."

Omnicom Group's GMR Marketing, New Berlin, Wis., handles all event and entertainment marketing for Nokia.

In one recent campaign, GMR used the Web, print, radio and some TV to drive consumers to VoiceStream Wireless Corp. stores to sign up for service, receive a Nokia phone and receive free tickets to two concerts featuring pop groups Macy Gray, Wallflowers and Vertical Horizon.

MOTOROLA MOVE

Rival Motorola has attracted the younger market in part from its sponsorship of the X Games, skateboarding and other extreme sports, says Tim Mason, director of Motorola's marketing-PCS, North America. "We try to become a fiber of the activities they partake in, whether it's music, core sports or lifestyles. Motorola is not necessarily marketing to them but is marketing in the areas where they spend their time."

Ms. Bricken says that wireless carriers should be specifically targeting Generation Y because "this generation does not have the emotional ties to the land-line household phone that previous generations do. Today's youths are used to being constantly on the go and having the communication tools always with them. [Teens] should be eagerly sought by wireless carriers that wish to establish their brands early on."

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