Vodafone hopes cheesy covers will attract new Japanese customers

As part of its attempts to get back in touch with its shrinking customer base, Vodafone K.K., the Japanese subsidiary of Vodafone Group PLC, will this July start giving customers the chance to dress mobile phones up as bulls, tires, or even lawns, the company announced today.

The campaign to boost the company's terminals as interesting lifestyle statements will start with two new 2G (second-generation) models, according to Matthew Nicholson, a spokesman for the company.

The V501T model by Toshiba Corp. will be sold with 12 costume covers made of silicone. Covers include "gummi," which simulates semitransparent, semisweet chewable confectionary, "dinosaur egg," a cover that looks lumpy, and cheese, a cover that looks cheesy.

The V501SH by Sharp Corp. will have 10 texture panels that clip on to the phones, with options such as "black crocodile" and "turquoise stone," he said.

The new cover strategy represents a significant step up in style compared to standard plastic covers, which often retail in Japan for about ¥1,000 (US$10) and that clip on many a teenager's mobile phone, Nicholson said.

"It's not just about new color schemes or patterns," he said of the Toshiba model's covers.

"They stick out much more, and there's a soft feel with the silicone," he said.

Meanwhile, the plastic covers for the Sharp phones are a cut above those made for other models, he said.

"There is an option called "metal" for the Sharp phone, but of course the cover is made out of plastic, but with a real simulated metal... feeling," Nicholson said.

Vodafone has also taken steps that its new offerings don't get too realistic. For example, the bull costume cover has soft horns.

Prices have yet to be decided for the new-style covers, he said.

The move seems to be a new spin on the company's latest strategy to turn the company's fortunes around by releasing more 2G models, announced by the company's new president, Bill Morrow, in April.

Between March 2004 and March 2005, Vodafone's subscriber base stayed at 15 million. In the same period, NTT DoCoMo Inc. added 2.5 million subscribers and number two carrier KDDI Corp. added more than 2.6 million subscribers to their respective customer bases, largely on surging 3G subscriber uptake, according to figures provided by the Telecom Carriers Association (TCA).

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