On “‘Ringtone Therapy’ Sweeping Mobile Phone-Mad Japan” by Buerk

Buerk, R. (2010). “Ringtone Therapy Sweeping Mobile Phone-Mad Japan.” Retrieved 23. August, 2010:


Buerk lets the world in on a new craze sweeping across Japan—a country known for being on the frontier of technological innovation. What’s the craze? Ring-tone therapy! The Japan Ring Tone Laboratory run by Matsumi Suzuki is producing ring-tones which they claim have therapeutic uses. One such tone touts the ability to dislodge pollen from a user’s nose by holding the handset to the nose while the ring-tone plays, another can help one lose weight, and another helps insomniacs fall asleep. Index, Japan’s mobile phone content provider acknowledges there is no proof that these therapeutic ring-tones actually work, but they note that people must believe in their effectiveness due to the large amount of downloads.

The therapeutic ring-tone works by playing a tone emitted from the handset of the cell-phone. Depending on the ring-tone the therapeutic effect is different. If one has allergy problems, they can download and play a ring tone, place it up to their nose and it will in principle dislodge the pollen from the nose, reducing allergy symptoms. If one is having sleeping problems, another ring-tone once downloaded onto the cell phone can be played and the tone emitted will help one fall asleep. This is definitely a different product, but is it good? The novelty of utilizing a ring-tone to dislodge pollen from the nose is exciting, but it’s questionable if it actually works effectively.

User group: A product like ring-tone therapy emphasizes the value of mythology or producing a marketing scheme which targets specific user groups to create belief in the effectiveness or value of a product. Whether the created value is legitimate or a placebo, belief in a product is a powerful influencing factor in the consumption process.

On Concept: The ring-tone therapy concept design shows us that novelty factors can work, although one must note these are typically products that do not last. Never-the-less, it demonstrates that a product that’s different and unusual is curiously exciting, which creates interest and buzz around a product leading to its eventual popularity. The key is in creating a good product that is also different.

Ring-tones are simple products to produce and easy to distribute, so as a novelty good, if it doesn’t sell a manufacturer doesn’t lose much, but they have the potential to gain a lot.

On Interaction: This article touches on interaction design when explaining that the allergy ring-tone work by waiting for the phone to ring and holding the handset up to the nose to dislodge the pollen. But, how would a user automatically know to do this? Such an action isn’t a natural or obvious use of a cell phone. A product without clear guidelines of use emphasizes the potential user error with products—having clearly identified ways for the user to interact with a product is key to its success.

With the ring-tone therapy the only thing one can really do wrong as a user, is not hold the handset up to the correct orifice, but as this product is really all about the placebo effect, what does that matter, right? If anything the user should worry about their ring-tone being too disruptive to other people around him/her, but I guess other basic ring-tones are just as annoying. While a user might also worry about their crazy looking behavior associated with the product—putting the handset up to their nose—such behavior attracts the attention of other individuals and in effect becomes a word-of-mouth marketing campaign.

On Interface: If one thinks of the ring-tone as the interface itself, as it is a sound, then a product such as ring-tone therapy no matter how novel, can be effective. Sound can work as a therapeutic tool as it affects the emotional memory part of the brain (the amygdala). This memory sector of the brain triggers various emotions due to learned and therefore remembered associations—a calming, and soothing tone can help one sleep because it makes them feel comforted and safe like a mother would when putting a child to sleep. How this therapeutic concept works with allergies is another question—the power of suggestion is really at work with this one.

As this article doesn’t mention anything about the interface between the ring-tone and user—the cell phone software itself—there isn’t much we can directly take away from the article on this topic. However, we can infer that the interface for purchasing ring-tones or any cell phone related downloadable products must have a simple, straight-forward point and click type interface, as there are limitations to the functions a cell phone can perform. A cell phone interface with a straight-forward and simple look will make the access and implementation of a ring-tone or downloaded product more successful, which in turn will increase the number of downloads. We see here that the manufacturers of the interface software and the producers of the features the interface supports go hand-in-hand—the look and feel of cell-phone’s interface impacts the amount of features that will be downloaded.