STICKER STRAT­EGY

The China Post - - GUIDE POST -

Larger and more ex­pres­sive than emoti­cons, the stick­ers have been a draw card for Line, whose users are mostly in Ja­pan, Thai­land, In­done­sia, In­dia and Spain. They also set Line apart from the bare-bones in­ter­face of the ri­val mes­sag­ing app What­sApp, which was bought by Face­book for about US$22 bil­lion. Line is worth about US$18 bil­lion based on rev­enue from monthly users, ac­cord­ing to Mar­cello Ahn, a fund manager at Quad In­vest­ment Man­age­ment.

The pop­u­lar­ity of the Brown and Cony stick­ers has also shaped a new trend in mo­bile com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In­stead of typing mes­sages, many users sim­ply tapped a sticker show­ing a coy-look­ing Brown sit­ting on a toi­let or eat­ing a bowl of ra­men. Users be­gan to as­so­ciate them­selves with cer­tain char­ac­ters and the lineup now in­cludes a be­spec­ta­cled mid­dle-aged man named Boss as well as James, a blond nar­cis­sist. "Peo­ple ex­press their emo­tion with the char­ac­ters so the depth of the in­ter­ac­tion is dif­fer­ent," Yoon said.

Stick­ers also made Line the rare mo­bile mes­sen­ger that ac­tu­ally rakes in cash, first by sell­ing stick­ers for US$2 a pack to mo­bile phone users, and later by adding new busi­nesses such as games and a taxi hail­ing ser­vice. Users can now sell stick­ers they make them­selves to other Line users. There are more than 200,000 peo­ple around the world who do that. Line Corp.'s net profit jumped 50 per­cent in 2014 to US$112 mil­lion on rev­enue of US$594 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to its par­ent com­pany, South Korea's Naver Corp. The app was launched in June 2011.

Line also cashed in on the rock star pop­u­lar­ity of its an­i­mal char­ac­ters through mo­bile games and an an­i­mated TV show in Ja­pan. In China, the com­pany hopes the stores and other ven­tures will put it in a strong start­ing po­si­tion in case au­thor­i­ties ever re­lent on their block­ing of the app. The first Line Friends store in China will open in Shang­hai's popular Xin­tiandi shop­ping dis­trict in May, sell­ing Brown dolls, Cony pens, Sally mugs and other goods such as kitchen uten­sils, sta­tion­ary, jew­elry and toys. "We hope to re­sume the Line app ser­vice some­day" in China, Yoon said. "If the Line app is re­sumed at a time when our char­ac­ters are well known, it would be a pow­er­ful launch. We hope that in the coun­tries where the Line app is not used ac­tively, Line char­ac­ters would pro­mote the app." Though an­a­lysts are skep­ti­cal about the app's fu­ture in China where Ten­cent's WeChat is dom­i­nant, they say the mer­chan­diz­ing busi­ness could be ef­fec­tive in the U.S. and in Latin Amer­ica.

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