How To Hook 'Em Young Without Appearing To Hook 'Em Young
By Mike Masnick, Thu Feb 10 23:30:00 GMT 2005

While warnings about not pitching mobile phones to children are getting stronger, it stills seems like plenty of companies are focused on the youth market.

Last month, a group of scientists got together to warn about the potential dangers of letting young children use mobile phones. This came just a few months after reports were coming out that the "under 10" demographic was the fastest growing segment of mobile phone adopters in the UK.

Of course, many companies still see it as a lucrative market, so it's unlikely that all marketing to kids is going to go away any time soon. While the warning convinced one company to call off plans for a mobile phone for kids, others can't resist the youth market. For example, just weeks after that warning, there was an announcement about an animated cartoon "network" designed for mobile phones -- clearly targeting kids.

In the meantime, it looks like toymaker Hasbro is trying to take the middle road. If you can't offer an actual mobile phone, how about a reasonable facsimile thereof? That at least seems to be the marketing plan behind Hasbro's ChatNow offering, which appears to be a modern mobile phone in everything but the phone. It looks like a phone. It rings like a phone. It comes with seven digit phone numbers, a built in camera, and the ability to text other users of the device -- all just like a regular mobile phone. It even has customizable ringtones. The only difference is that it's not using a cellular network, but a two-way radio system like walkie-talkies, meaning that the phones can only communicate with others in a two-mile radius (though, that's likely to be a maximum distance unlikely to be found in real life).

Hasbro is counting on the fact that kids are clamoring for mobile phones, but parents don't want to buy them the phones either for health reasons or worries about how financially responsible their kids are -- since this system doesn't require any costs beyond just buying the device. Still, some others may find this a little too "cute" as it feels suspiciously like "hooking them young" on the idea that they need to have a phone. That would certainly be the claim if such a device came from (or was even branded by) a major carrier or handset maker. However, Hasbro's interest simply seems to be in filling the market void, and trying to update their struggling toy business for these gadget-filled times. Still, with the level of tech savvyness kids show these days, are they really going to feel satisfied with a phone that is clearly not a phone?