Tak­ing over our phones one sticker at a time

Big in Asia, Line app hopes cute fac­tor will win world­wide 亞洲火紅的應用程式 希望用可愛元素打進全球市場

The China Post - - GUIDE POST -

Mickey Mouse, Hello Kitty, move over, and make way for laid­back Brown bear and his ir­re­press­ible girl­friend Cony the bunny. The bear, the bunny and their seven friends were once merely dig­i­tal stick­ers that users of the mo­bile mes­sag­ing app, Line, would send to each other like emoti­cons. Now, they are on their way to be un­leashed into stores, vir­tual re­al­ity and pos­si­bly even an an­i­mated film. For smart­phone users in Asia where most of Line's boom­ing 181 mil­lion monthly users are lo­cated, the char­ac­ters are as familiar as old-school icons such as Hello Kitty and Dis­ney's an­i­mated fa­vorites. They are not well known in Amer­ica or Europe but owner Line Corp. hopes to change that. The com­pany plans to open 100 stores sell­ing Brown dolls and other cute "Line Friends" mer­chan­dise world­wide over the next three years. It has al­ready opened two stores in Seoul and its first Shang­hai, and New York stores will open later this year.

Though partly an ac­ci­den­tal strat­egy, the com­pany says the con­crete pres­ence will draw more users to the app and help repli­cate its rapid Asian suc­cess in other re­gions. It will also give the com­pany a back­door into China, where Line is blocked along with other for­eign mes­sag­ing apps and so­cial me­dia sites. "We never in­tended to do a char­ac­ter busi­ness," said Yoon Sun­min, who over­sees Line's char­ac­ter busi­ness, dur­ing an in­ter­view in which the com­pany for the first time out­lined its mer­chan­diz­ing plans in de­tail. "It ex­ploded by ac­ci­dent," he said, drink­ing cof­fee from a pa­per cup em­bla­zoned with the dazed face of Brown.

Vis­i­tors to the newly opened flag­ship shop in Seoul's trendy Gang­nam dis­trict screamed with de­light when they saw the over­sized Brown bear greet­ing them near the en­trance of the ma­jes­tic three-story store. Lo­cals as well as tourists from Viet­nam, China and Hong Kong lined up to take a pic­ture with Brown and other hu­man-size Line char­ac­ters, as if they were huge pop stars. Eve­lyn Tan, a 27-year-old from north­west­ern China, and her friend Keira Yi, 23, from Bei­jing, said they don't use Line in China but came to look at Brown and other cute dolls. "I have some friends from Tai­wan and they use Line," said Tan. "The stick­ers. They are so cute."

(To be con­tin­ued in to­mor­row's Guide Post)

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