Sunday, April 20, 2014

26 August 2013

US-based Google created a new household verb, “to google.” Korea’s KakaoTalk created a new household phrase as well, “let’s katalk.” And now Japan’s LINE is the newest to create new vocabulary, “line sitae.” 

Widely popular mobile messaging app LINE is confident of surpassing 300 million users this year. It has been able to get subscribers faster than Facebook. What is striking is that the mobile messenger app is used all across Japan, where domestic IT companies are lagging behind global peers in technological development. 

There are several factors for its success. Some say that the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011 presented unique opportunities for NHN’s messaging app LINE. When the tragic earthquake hit the nation, its data messaging became the main method of communication. Others believe that the application is appealing to Japanese people, who tend to be very sensitive about their private life.

But LINE stickers seem to be the main reason for its huge popularity. "There is a wide assortment of stickers, which are so cute that I often communicate with my friends through LINE Chat," said Mickey Ogaka, who lives in Tokyo. And yet, he is not the only person. Many people in Japan cite stickers as a major reason for using LINE. 

The LINE character lineup.The LINE character lineup.

LINE stickers and characters appeal to their emotions. There are 10,000 kinds of stickers sold in LINE, which makes over 1 billion yen (11.3 billion won, US$10.1 million) in monthly revenue. LINE characters captivate Japanese people’s imaginations in real life, too. In a character festival in Japan held in this summer, characters from LINE stood on an equal footing with mainstream characters such as Doraemon and One Piece. Japan's famous handbag brand Samantha Thavasa released a pouch bag with LINE characters on it. In April, TV Tokyo aired the Line Town anime, which features characters from NHN's popular app.

Critics argue that LINE Corporation, formerly known as NHN Japan which owns LINE, is trying to pass itself off as a Japanese company. But it appears that the Japanese do not care about its nationality. Early this year, DeNA Co. advertised on TV with a message that "Line comes from Korea. Our "comm" is from Japan." Little public reaction proved their indifference to the issue.

LINE is planning to expand its reach to other countries, including Mexico, India, and Brazil. However, the company has no intention to gamble on stickers. Jun Masuda, chief strategy and marketing officer of LINE Corporation, remarked, "We will unveil content and services that are familiar to local users by considering cultural characteristics."

LINE's new strategy for Hallyu (Korean Wave) is to integrate into a new culture while maintaining its identity. Korean IT companies that aspire to push into overseas markets should consider this approach.

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