Last June, I wrote about emerging company, Exradia, and their attempts to sell a magic mobile phone battery to the major handset manufacturers, such as Nokia and Sony Ericsson. Their replacement batteries are supposed to offer health benefits to their owners by jiggling around with the electrical currents in the battery. (Don’t ask me – it’s their theory.)
What was shocking about Exradia was they were not your usual flaky snake-oil merchants or slick charlatans; these were well connected and well funded business people who were out to do a professional and smooth job. However, this is is what I wrote:
My guess is that Exradia executives will spend a futile Summer camped in Sweden and Finland and, when it starts getting cold, the push into retail sales will begin. Even then, flogging magic batteries to the public is going to be hard work.
It looks like my prediction has come true. Of course the phone manufacturers did not want to know; anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the mobile industry could have predicted that. And selling a product’s dubious health benefits to the public has always been a much easier task. And so, a push into the consumer market has begun. The old CEO is out, a new one in with new money, sales staff and tactics.
Out goes, James Fintain Lawler as CEO, a man with experience at Xerox and so knowledge of doing big deals between businesses, and in comes David G. Schick from Citigroup. Now until recently hiccaughs, Citi were seen as one of the greatest retail brands in the world. It is one of the few American banks that can claim to be a truly global brand, and is the largest company in the world. David was Senior Vice President of Citigroup’s Global Consumer Group, responsible for consumer sales and distribution strategies – just what you want if you need to hit the retail market hard.
So the management team is all lined up for flogging this stuff big time to the public. But what the team still appears to lack is anyone who might understand the science of what they are offering. And that is not a surprise, because scientifically, the Exradia magic batteries are a flight of fancy.
Let us remind ourselves of the pseudo-scientific talk that Exradia use about their batteries,
Living matter is composed of electrically charged particles that are in constant motion thereby generating electromagnetic fields. These EMFs form part of the natural electromagnetic background and are characterised by random both in time and space. Biological cells do not respond to these natural fields.
By contrast, cell phones and other digital wireless devices emit man-made EMFs that are constant in space over the dimensional scale of groups of biologically relevant frequencies. These regular or ‘structured’ EMFs have been shown to be bio-effective. One example of such an EMF is the pulsating RF signal produced by a GSM mobile phone
Central to their claims is their statement that somehow ‘structured’ electrical fields can somehow damage cells. This is far from being scientifically accepted. In fact, it is widely regarded as nonsense. There is a lot of claptrap out there being talked about ‘information’ carrying radiowaves being dangerous, with a lot of ‘test tube’ type experiments that claim to show an effect. Behind these studies are groups who appear to relish the idea that mobile phones can be dangerous. Exradia have been sponsoring their own studies and claim then that their technology has ‘been proven to eliminate biological effects in all instances in which it has been tested in laboratory research’. But to an outsider, the research leaves many unanswered questions and looks highly implausible.
Exradia talk about ‘protection from the known risks of EMFs’, but elsewhere are the first to admit that mobiles have not been proven dangerous to health. Then they say that they offer the ‘only solution that has been scientifically proven to neutralise, at its source, the potentially harmful biological effects of radiation emitted from mobile phones’. But no studies have been done on humans. And there are lots of weasel words around like ‘may’ and ‘potentially’. I would be fascinated to see what an ASA panel or Trading Standards officer would make of it all.
So what are the new Exradia up to? Well, first, they have struck a deal with Maplins, a large electronics and hobbyist retailer in the UK. This is unlikely to satisfy their ambitions. Maplins customers are electronics enthusiasts. Fear of technology does not occur amongst their technophile customer base – and that is what Exradia want – fear that mobile phones will harm you.
If you want to use fear then you need to use a Daily Mail technique and ‘think of the children’ – and that is where Exradia are going next. They are re-branding their batteries as ‘AngelsTM‘ and starting a full scale viral advertising campaign – hitting the likes of MySpace and Facebook – and so reaching out to their audience with kid-friendly branding. A new web-site has been launched, http://www.welcomeangels.com/, that offers competitions, downloads and other gimmicks to get the kids excited. All so very 21st Century and Web 2.0. But at the heart of this campaign is a rather nasty piece of market creation. No young person is going to buy an unnecessary and expensive battery when they already have one. You need to convince them somehow that their existing battery could be doing them harm. Basic marketing. Create a fear, a gap, a need. Offer a solution.
The basic flaw in this plan though is obvious. Despite being rather kid focused, young people will not respond to this sort of marketing. They are immortal and a fear of death will not motivate them. Just look at the failure of scare tactics against tobacco or drugs and the impossibility of signing an 18 year old up for life insurance or a pension. To make fear work, you need to get the parents – you need to get to the grown up somewhere.
And so, Exradia are spreading the fear though adult channels too. The ever compliant Independent newspaper have allowed Exradia Chief Executive Mr Schick to write and advertorial scare story,
There is incontrovertible evidence that wireless use has a biological effect on cells, which could be the first link in a chain leading to health problems.
Incontrovertible it may be that blasting cells with microwaves has an effect on them. But a plausible mechanism for initiating health problems at levels experience by mobile users? That is why he uses the word could.
And Exradia have been issuing press releases to coincide with the launch of the iPhone to say that users risk ‘melting their brain’ because the iPhone battery is not replaceable with a magic Exradia battery and so ‘Apple has chosen to ignore this potential health issue’.
Personally, I find all this rather distasteful. It is a blatant attempt to cash in on people’s inherent distrust of the unknown and their susceptibility to overrate unfamiliar risks. Mobiles do kill. But it is due to the humdrum risk of mobile using distracted road users. Kids can get hurt by mobiles – but this is much more likely to be as a side effect of bullying or during theft of a handset.
The big question is – will Exradia succeed? Again a prediction. They will not last out 2008. Maybe they will sling out the sales director in six months and try another last gasp at marketing. Much money is being pumped in, but patience will not last forever. And this market is hard. People love their mobiles and change them regularly. Their priority for new accessories for their phones are not magic batteries, but media cards, covers and downloads. Exradia have a Sisyphean task of keeping up with the never ending supply of new handsets and batteries. Lots have to sold to justify the R&D, testing and manufacturing logistics demanded by such rapidly changing technology. No start up, no matter how well funded, can burn cash for long without seeing prospects of huge sales. That is not going to happen for Exradia.
And, good grief! A whole blog entry without mentioning homeopaths. What is becoming of me?