There are two wars tearing apart Korea at the moment. One involves flying missiles and deadly danger, and the other is a tech battle between cute characters. While the south has returned fire today against the North for firing missiles into disputed ocean off the coast of the peninsula, Line and KakaoTalk are battling against each other in a cold war that is developing between the two mobile messaging apps.
LINE and KakaoTalk, both produced by Korean tech companies are planning a war of marketing focused around their highly popular characters, which have been very successfully monetised by Line and are used in everyday communication by a growing global user base.
Naver was the first out of the box, with an "aggressive character-driven marketing campaign" with the opening of the LINE Brand Store earlier this month. In the store, which used to be operated by Naver, another group company under the NHN umbrella, users can purchase LINE’s character products. Stickers have become one of LINE’s major income sources accounting for $25.7M in the fourth quarter of 2013 (20% of total revenue).
LINE increased its brand awareness with character-driven marketing through stickers at the time of its launch in Japan. The success is mainly due to its strategy of utilizing image communications by reflecting the characteristics of that country in which it is common to improve a corporate image through characters, according to BusinessKorea, who first published this story.
The mobile messaging company now appears to be focusing on increasing content that combines games and characters, as evidenced by the release of its defense game “LINE Rangers” early in March, with LINE characters in the game.
KakaoTalk, who were first to release characters on their messaging platform, is also gearing up to launch its character business this year. So far, Korea’s top messaging company Kakao has been selling character products exclusively at Kakao Shop on its mobile messaging platform. However, the firm is actively seeking to expand customer contact points through pop-up stores.
“During the first half of this year, we are scheduled to open pop-up stores where visitors can experience KakaoTalk Friends characters themselves, in partnership with a local large retailer. We are also planning to work on character licensing so that other companies can make products using KakaoTalk characters," according to a source at Kakao.
According to their character marketing strategy, Kakao aims to assist licensed companies to produce a range of character products, creating a win-win situation for the industry, and contributing to an increase in offline merchandise that will compliment their online characters.
The source also explained that “Emoticons account for up to 15% of the total amount spent in KakaoTalk chat rooms,” and added that “Animated characters have become a representative communications method, and they are more popular than videos, images, or pictures. So, we will adopt a character-driven strategy this year.”
While the missiles rain down near the border between the Koreas, it is expected that the intensity of the battle between the messaging giants will also heat up in the next few months.