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
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)