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When buying a wireless phone, consumers will find many different brands, but not much variation in style. Pocket-sized, black and rectangular described most of the phones on the market.

Nokia's idea was to personalize and stylize. With the 1998 introduction first of the 6100 and months later the 5100 series, consumers could adopt one of 20 distinctive rings, plus a variety of colorful and art-inspired interchangeable face plates. The phones also revolutionized the battery problem many wireless phone users face; the 6100 was the first to have a battery life that lasted longer than a week.

"The 6100 was the one that broke the mold about what people thought about their wireless phone. Just as the flip phone of Motorola was an icon of a generation in the '80s, so is this," says Matt Wisk, Nokia VP-national marketing, who spearheaded the marketing effort that lead to the product's success.

Part of the idea to customize the phone came from a joint deal with AT&T Corp., in which Nokia provided the phones for AT&T's Digital One Rate, the first flat-rate monthly fee plan.

When AT&T and Nokia met about the joint advertising campaign, AT&T agency Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco, suggested making the phone the icon of the plan by decorating it in a red, white and blue flag.

Mr. Wisk, 39, liked the idea-by making the Nokia phone the icon in consumers' minds, AT&T and Nokia would win. The "flag" phone went on to be featured in the ad and many who saw it wanted one, too. Nokia responded with the 5100 series and its interchangeable face plates, but also with an artists' series of 6100 phones in which artwork wraps around the entire phone.

The 6100 went on to become the most successful product Nokia has ever launched and "at least doubled our expectations," says Mr. Wisk.

"Almost all people like being special in some way. With all the personalization,

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