Japanese Media Tells You to Upgrade or Else

Quick! Upgrade your phone or pay the price!I’m a skeptic. I never used to be, but the whole “war on terror” episode has made me very suspicious about what the media tells us. It’s a point that Jason brings up in his article When Will We Stop Being Scared? He gives a few examples of how we are encouraged, tricked or brainwashed into doing or believing something that is either wrong, unnecessary or exaggerated. Whether it is a disease like SARS, the threat of terrorism or environmental problems such as global warming, there are always people profiting from the fear mongering, and that is enough to make me wonder how much truth there is in what we are told.

One good example in Japan is the introduction of expiry dates on household appliances (Japanese only source). The news program ran for a good 30 minutes, giving examples of different electrical appliances and how after 10 or 15 years use, they can break down and cause house fires. The argument was that if you buy a new car, or at least get it serviced, you should do the same for household appliances. They gave examples of fires caused by televisions, air conditioners and even simple fans, and then went on to show the expiry date labels that the manufacturers are now required to stick on new appliances.

Could this be a clever plan by the electronics industry to boost repeat sales? If you worked in the industry, would you scare your customers into a repeat purchase by talking about the danger of house fires? Of course you would. Just as you would talk about crime if you were trying to sell burglar alarms. The fear factor is a powerful selling tool.

On a similar topic, it didn’t come as a huge surprise to hear Mami tell me she had to buy a new cell phone because they were hiking the prices on new handsets before the end of the year. Softbank has already done it, and now AU (KDDI) and NTT DoCoMo are joining them with new phones costing considerably more than they have been. Meanwhile, customers upgrading their phones before or after the price hikes will benefit from lower call charges. Apparently, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has been urging this reform:

Because this charge system (high call fees) is disadvantageous to consumers who use the same handsets for a long time, however, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has been urging service providers to introduce new systems in fiscal 2008 at the latest.  (Source: Japan Today)

Now, I’m not talking about a small increase. Until now, most high-end phones have cost 20,000 – 30,000 yen, but…

Mobile phone service provider NTT DoCoMo Inc will cut call charges by an average of 30% but raise handset prices to around 60,000 yen per unit under a new plan, informed sources said Tuesday. (Source: Japan Today)

So this means that if you don’t upgrade you have to continue paying high call charges with a crappy phone. Otherwise (if dumping the phone isn’t an option) you have to rush out and upgrade to a new phone before they hike the prices, or spend a fortune on a new model if you wait too long.

While this may not be fear mongering as such, the mobile phone carriers are scaring people into making a sudden purchase with the threat of price hikes. We’ve seen this work with gasoline, right? From a business point of view, you want to sell as many new phones as possible. That means, you need to make the public aware of the change. Usually you would advertise a new service or product at huge cost to the company, but not in this case. Instead, you team up with your competitors, agree on the rates, call your buddy at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications who with a little financial incentive agrees to make a statement along the lines of “the service charges are unfair to consumers and therefore we urge cell phone providers to reduce call charges”. You then throw some money at the major news networks to run extensive coverage of the new “government backed” pricing plans. Before you know it, a good percentage of the population, including my wife, are rushing out to buy a new handset!  

Maybe I’m wrong about this. Maybe the government really was pushing for lower call charges. Maybe the news just happened to pick up the story. Maybe the world is an honest place after all. Or maybe the news is the most powerful advertising medium of all, and those that work in it can be bought.

If you like, you can find me on Twitter at @nick_ramsay. I'd love to hear from you!

5 thoughts on “Japanese Media Tells You to Upgrade or Else

  1. My cell phone is like 5 years old and the technology in it is probably at least 10 years old… Oh well, when the battery can’t be charged anymore,I will get a new one… I will have to since they probably stopped making those battery’s like 10 years ago! Its all a conspiracy to get us to buy more stuff!

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