The World: Insider's View - Japan

The mobile phone has taken on so many functions that young people feel thay can't live without them, Dave McCaughan writes.

When you hear a 16-year-old say something like "My keitai (mobile phone) is more important than life", you naturally think it's teen overstatement. But in Japan it's probably true.

She was eight when she got her first 3G camera phone, which, of course, she immediately began to use to deliver SMS to her friends. In parallel, her parents argued the main attraction of the phone was that the handheld GPS system would mean she could not get lost.

Soon we heard that SMS had replaced passing notes in class because "Who writes on paper any more?". She sends up to ten SMS messages in every lesson.

By the time she turned 13, using Quick Response codes embedded in advertising in magazines and on posters and the packaging of her drinks and snacks was normal. QR codes are those centimetre-square collections of fuzzy lines that act like a scanner code, allowing our teen to access and enter promotions automatically, go direct to fan sites and online communities, or access free giveaway software.

You take a photo of the code with your phone; it uses the built-in internet connection to take your screen to the connected site or register you for the promotion. Fortunately for marketers, that automatically tells us which page of which magazine or which vending machine sign she is reacting to.

Of course, by now she is pretty blase about these things. Only a year ago, just putting a QR code on the back of a manga magazine was enough to get her to use it. Now, it needs to be headlined with increasingly special offers.

Recently, we launched a MasterCard campaign about a young woman on her first trip to India. Click a QR code on the print and posters and you could get special screen designs to personalise your phone screen and put your own photo in the ads. Common stuff. We also ran a first-ever promotion where you could download the original song, free, and direct to your phone from a broadcast radio station or from the radio in your phone to the MP3 player.

But really our teen is more likely to be spending her time reading daily downloads from her favourite of thousands of novels and manga often written solely for keitai access. In fact "mobile manga" is growing at more than 40 per cent a year.

Her phone is also her public transport pass, her diary (Japanese is now the most common blogging language in the world, and increasing numbers of teens blog solely on their mobile phone), her debit card, her points accumulator (most 16-year-old girls belong to a minimum nine retailers' points systems).

And so you get the point. The keitai is not her "third screen"; it is her life.

- Dave McCaughan is the director of strategic planning at McCann Worldgroup Asia-Pacific.

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