Vodafone Ups Fares, Delivers Cultural Fusion
By John Alderman, Fri Apr 23 17:45:00 GMT 2004

The Japanese subsidiary of Vodafone recently revised tariffs upwards possibly because it hadn’t seen the anticipated rush of new subscribers. Plan B seems to be to seduce customers with cleverly designed new phones, going for customers seeking prestige rather than a price break.

The price revisions essentially amout to getting rid of cost breaks for calls under a minute. Gone is the "10 yen for under 10 seconds" special. Prices will now be counted in increments of minutes, rounded up, instead of the previous blocks of 20 seconds.

A European sense of charm and easy-going modernity has been a hallmark of the brand since it took over J-Phone in 2001 and finished the renaming process in 2003. Ads featuring David Beckham were posted prominently in subways and other public spots, and a cool factor was strongly pushed—along with price breaks. That trendy draw will be expanded but tweaked a little in the company’s design-centered push for luring new customers.

A new phone announced this week seeks to mix Japanese aesthetics with modern sensibility. Brightly lacquered red or black boxes feature key pads inspired by the strings of the traditional Japanese koto. But the traditional elements are offset by a sleekly modern design and it comes loaded with 40-voice modern jazz ringtones. (No koto?)

Is this an appeal to Japanese pride and nostalgia missing since taking the “J” away from J-Phone? Maybe, but the phone, made by Toshiba, also seems to be a way of appealing to older customers, as its large font display and ease-of-use is featured alongside the mixed culture swank.

A press conference this week showcased more phones on their way, all with an edgy design sense.