[HOT ITEM]Ring, Ring, Ring! Cell Phone Firms Are Offering Youth Chance to Cash In

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[HOT ITEM]Ring, Ring, Ring! Cell Phone Firms Are Offering Youth Chance to Cash In

Ms. Lee, a 21-year-old college student, cannot leave home without two things - her ultra-fashionable cellular phone and her cellular phone membership card. The latter is especially important. With that little card, she can purchase nearly everything at a discount.

She uses the card to get her hair done and to treat her boyfriend to meals at fancy restaurants and movies. The card is like having extra money, offering savings on a range of purchases.

But not everyone can enjoy this privilege. In fact, if you are older than 23, you are out of luck. The price breaks are part of special services provided by cellular phone companies.

First introduced in 1999 as TTL by SK Telecom, the membership clubs, which now include Khai from LG Telecom and Na from Korea Telecom, have become increasingly popular among the youth of Korea, where a cellular phone is a must for everyone, young and old.

Nine out of 10 young cellular phone users have at least one of these membership cards. TTL alone boasts 2.4 million members, followed by Na with 1.3 million and Khai with 1 million subscribers. For the nation's youth, paying full price is a mark of being out of touch - or old.

Kim Bum-soo, a member of the marketing team at SK Telecom, said, "It was the first time in the Korean cellular phone market that segment marketing, which targets a limited clientele, turned out to be a huge success."

The services were designed to fit the lifestyle of the younger generation, for whom a cell phone is as essential as entertainment and shopping.

Recently, TTL added a new lure, the opportunity for 100 members to participate in a study program in the United States, at the University of Pennsylvania and at the University of Washington at Seattle. In April alone, 24,000 people applied for the chance to take part in the program.

The flood of interest has changed the firms' marketing tactics. Rather than worrying about making money, they are now focusing on helping users who share similar interests form clubs or communities.

For the young generation, these membership cards are not just useful for buying, they are an important part of their lives.

The huge success of these campaigns underscores the growing potential of Korea's cellular phone market. And, according to Mr. Kim, there are no signs that this potential will abate anytime in the near future.

by Chun Su-jin

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