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Line Looks To US Market

Japanese Messaging App Wants To Say It With Stickers

The messaging app marketplace is a crowded place right now, with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger and numerous others competing for our attention, and even companies like Pinterest are getting in on the game. One could be forgiven for thinking that you’d have to have something pretty special to go up against the billions of dollars at stake for whoever can capture the attention of the market.

Japanese messaging app Line thinks that they have what it takes. The company is already huge in Asia, with 450 million monthly users, and it’s now looking to expand into the potentially lucrative U.S. market.

What sets Line apart from established challengers like WhatsApp or Viber is that it aspires to be more than a simple messaging app. It has an entire culture and community built around its ensemble of sticker characters, which range from Brown the laid-back bear to Cony the excitable bunny. Users of Line can use stickers (essentially more developed emojis) featuring these characters to say almost anything, from ‘I’m going to be late’ to ‘I miss you,’ all condensed into a single cartoon image.

It sounds strange to a Western audience who, despite the mass panic over childhood illiteracy that’s been going on ever since someone first lol’d, still use actual characters from the alphabet to communicate. But it’s huge in Japan and apart from any profits they make off the actual messaging service, Line sells a vast array of everything from stuffed toys to phone cases featuring their characters. This may seem absurd until you consider that Rovio made $195 million dollars last year selling franchised Angry Birds merchandise.

Even within the app users can buy new sets of stickers, themes for the messenger, and even games – a built-in revenue stream which must make companies like Facebook, who are struggling to monetise their messaging platforms, more than a little envious.

Line has so far built a loyal following based on its wide range of expressive sticker characters, who can be used to convey messages which may otherwise be too time-consuming or difficult in the complex and highly formalised Japanese language. Whether that tendency will translate to the American audience remains to be seen. Line has made some inroads in Spain where it has gained some 16 million users, partly through highly publicised partnerships with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona football teams to produce stickers based around the clubs.

Likewise in the U.S. Line has partnered with Disney to produce a game, Disney Tsum Tsum, in the hopes of raising the company’s profile. It may take more than this to overcome the cultural barriers which stand between success in Japan and worldwide recognition, however. But Line is trying hard, and it has recruited some of the top app architects from Japan and beyond to help. As Takeshi Idezawa, Line’s chief operating officer, claims: ‘It’s messaging, evolved.’


Douglas is an English Literature graduate who has written about everything from music to food to theatre, now a content creator for Social Media Frontiers. No topic too large or too small. Follow him @DouglasAtSMF.

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Line Looks To US Market Reviewed by Anonymous on Friday, August 08, 2014 Rating: 5
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