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Teens Increasingly Personalizing Cell Phones With Catchy - and Sometimes Kitschy - Rings

University of Maryland student Greg Brouillette
University of Maryland student Greg Brouillette is now more likely to use the vibrate feature on his cell phone. (Photo by Shelley Buter)

By Shelley Buter
Maryland Newsline
Tuesday, May 16, 2006

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - University of Maryland junior Greg Brouillette says there is nothing more embarrassing than being in class and having your cellular phone go off.

Especially if the ringtone you downloaded to your phone is a “stupid or cheesy” song, like, he says, the lyrics to The Foundations' song, "Build Me Up Buttercup."

Temptation and curiosity prompted Brouillette to recently purchase and download ringtones for his cell phone, he says, because he thought it was “cool; the in thing to do.”

But now, fearing public humiliation over his choices, he says he almost always uses the vibrate feature on his cell phone.

Brouillette is just one of the legions of teens and young adults who are downloading songs to alert them to incoming calls on their cell phones. They're more likely to download these musical ringtones than any other age group, according to a study released in March.

The study, conducted by Usable Products Co., reported that 26 percent of 1,000 study respondents ages 14-17 downloaded ringtones to their phones at least once a month in 2005.

More than 24 percent of those ages 18 to 24 reported downloading ringtones at least once a month, the study showed.

There are ringtones for rap music, rock, reggae and even voices from television shows, in which users can purchase sounds ranging from cartoon character Homer Simpson’s infamous “Doh” to the theme song to “Scooby Doo.”

Although Verizon Wireless does not keep separate stats on ringtone use, spokeswoman Sherri Cunningham says 49 percent of the 26.1 million Verizon customers nationwide used multimedia data services ranging from text messaging to downloading music, video clips and ringtones between January and April 2006 - double the same period a year earlier.

But not all cell phone users are fans.

Web sites offering free ringtone downloads:




Scott Weiss, CEO of Usable Products Co., says older consumers reject music services because of high costs. The study showed that only 15 percent of respondents 25 and older downloaded ringtones at least once a month.

To purchase and upload ringtones, cell phone users must have Internet access -- a service for which wireless providers charge extra fees. According to the March study, Sprint’s Music Store service charges more than $2.50 per ringtone download; Verizon charges its wireless customers almost $1.99; and T-Mobile charges $1.49.

Some teens download multiple songs at a time, using different sounds to announce different callers.

Teens such as Magruder High School freshman Vanessa Trinh say downloading ringtones is fun and enhances the “coolness” of a wireless phone. “Whether you like old school, mainstream or punk, it allows you to be creative,” she adds.

Ringtones are available in a variety of genre-specific songs.

Sony Music Box reports that the most popular music ringtones being downloaded this month come from pop-and-dance tracks, with downloads of songs like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper.

Latin and Country songs, such as “Jesus, Take the Wheel” recorded by 2005’s American Idol contest winner Carrie Underwood, also top Sony’s most popular ringtone downloads for May.

But not all young adults are sold on the service.

Eliot Triantos, a 20-year-old criminal justice major at the University of Maryland, says ringtones annoy him.

“It is more of a high school trend,” he adds. “Ringtones are sometimes really loud, obnoxious songs. Plus, they are too expensive to download.”

Many local teens and young adults agree that pricing and marketing are key when deciding whether or not to download songs for a fee or to use the ringtones preloaded into their cellular phones.

University of Maryland student Arianne Wilson
University of Maryland sophomore Arianne Wilson says she likes to download free music ringtones to personalize her cell phone. (Photo by Shelley Buter)

Arianne Wilson, a sophomore at the University of Maryland, says she only uses Web sites offering free downloads.

“Ringtones are really not worth paying a lot of money for,” she says.

But Weiss says many teens and young adults use ringtones to socialize and display their personalities.

“These age groups said it was easy to download ringtones on their own or with the help of their friends,” Weiss said.

Brouillette agrees with Weiss that downloading ringtones is associated with personalization and social ties.

“You can download music ringtones to identify certain people when they call you,” Brouillette says. “They allow you to personalize your phone.”

Although many think downloading ring tones is expensive, Weiss thinks the trend among teens and young adults will continue to gain momentum in the future.

“Young people are more likely to spend money using their phone,” he says. “There is no question about it.”

Copyright 2006 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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