New Competitiveness in Emoticon Character Business: Kakao Friends & Line

이훈기, 이다혜, 장은재l승인2016.09.01l수정2016.09.06 12:41l348호 1면

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 Nowadays, you can find animated character products for sale anywhere in Korea, but this wasn’t always the case. In the past, Korea’s animated creations suffered from low demand, but this is rapidly changing. New characters like Pororo and Tayo are rapidly taking over the market, as the animated character industry grows and Koreans are finding new ways to deliver this product to the market. For example, in the past, dolls and other toys for kids were made as replicas of their favorite cartoon characters. However, today, most animated character goods are based on emoticons available from social networking services (SNS). The variety of animated character based merchandise has also expanded and includes mobile phone accessories, jewelry, desserts, cosmetics, and many other daily necessities. Stores specializing in this type of merchandise are larger than expected, often consisting of three to four floors. These animated characters are becoming important features in our everyday lives. Moreover, animated Korean characters are attracting foreigner consumers, who use Korean SNS, or who see them featured on Korean dramas. In other words, the Korean animated character business is booming.

 The number of adult consumers of these products are also on the rise. Kidult, a new word coined to represent these consumers, proves that adults too, are addicted to the craze. Kidult consumers are adults who have a childlike sensitivity, where their consumption of these types of goods helps them relive warm childhood memories. So animated character goods are not just for kids anymore. They are loved by many people, regardless of age or gender. They have become an important part of main stream culture in our society.

▲ Many cute character Products attract kidults.

 To attract the purchasing power of the Kidult, many companies use character marketing along with their products. A classic example of character marketing is including a miniature replica of an animated character in a happy meal set for kids at MacDonalds. Recently, the fast food company included a Minion with the meal and many adults stood in a line before the restaurant’s opening to be sure they got ahold of the product. Dunkin’ Donuts sold Moomin dolls for 3,000 won when people bought more than 8 donuts. The pairing of this character with the purchase of donuts resulted in a 30% increase in sales for the franchises. From fast food restaurants to domestic cosmetics, many companies are collaborating with the character creators and seeing great success. But this success is not limited to the companies involved. Sales of these characters have helped activate the regional economy.

 Japan, is famous for many animated characters such as Hello Kitty, Pokemon, Rilakkuma, Crayon Shin-Chan and so on. They have also created a local character, used as a mascot, to revive local areas. These mascots are used in local events, on TV programs, and on products created in collaboration with companies. In reality, some of these products and services earn great success as a result of a popular mascot. These mascots are used in local event, products collaborated with corporation. In reality, some are obtained successfulresult thanks to their popular mascot. These mascots are used in local event, product collaborated with corporation.

▲ 'Kumamon' is one of the regional characters in Japan.

For instance, Kumamon of Kumamoto Ken and Bari of Ehime are famous characters. Before 2010, Kumamoto Ken suffered from low recognition amongst the 47 local governments. However, through the use of a successful promotional campaign, where the creators used a cute glowing bear character named ‘Kumamon’, the popularity ranking increased from 32nd to 18. The train is now officially referred to as Kumamoto Ken and the number of passengers doubled. Also, the sale or related goods was about 1,007 billion yen (1 trillion 871 billion won) last year. Therefore, the power and influence of a successful animated character is great.

 Many collaborations and promotions have been well received by consumers. However, among the most successful trends, domestic character brands are proving to be the best. Kakao Friends of Daum kakao, and Line Friends of Naver are character brands that resulted from the social networking services Kakao Talk and Line. Our domestic characters have gained a lot popularity in recent years.

 Just outside Gangnam station, many people queue from morning to night, in front of the Kakao Friends store. In the case of Line, the representative store for Line Friends merchandise is located in near Itaewon station, and is larger than its competitor’s shop for Kakao Friends. Although these two stores do have something in common in that they are both multi-storied shops and are always crowded with visitors. In the stores, there are a lot of different things, including everyday accessories, toys, clothes, and so on. In addition, there are cafés in both locations where many customers enjoy character shaped desserts and beverages.

 Both stores have various figurines set up throughout the floors and many people take pictures with them. However, in the case of Line Friends, the store has a special photo zone set up for visitors to enjoy. The figurines come in all shapes and sizes. In fact, the shop even includes a giant version of its popular character Brown, an over 3 meter tall teddy bear. Moreover, the café and photo zones are on the same floor, so people can take a rest, while taking a photo. One thing is clear in both stores, Line and Kakao Friends, there are many people who enjoy their time browsing through the adorable merchandise. It is easy to lose track of time when visiting.

▲ The biggest Line Friends store in Itaewon.

 The Dankook Herald (DKH) interviewed Kim Su-yeon, an employee at Line Friends in Itaewon. According to Kim, Line Friends in Itaewon offers the best facility for consumer browsing and shopping. “This store is a theme park in the city. Customers are satisfied when they get to see tangible versions of their favorite emoticon characters from their mobile phones. We tried to make our dolls soft in order to distinguish them from products sold in other stores. Visitors appreciate the cuddly touch and for this reason they can relax in our store. It is our ultimate goal,” she said. And she added, “The concept of this store is ‘Line Villa’. We decorated one wall like a villa from the first to the third floor. Each floor is a room for Brown, Cony and Sally.” She explained the main difference with this store and its competitors is the varied nationalities of its customers. Most foreign customers in shops like this are Chinese, but this store has many different foreign customers. The DKH asked what she thought was the secret to its success and she replied, “I think the TV drama ‘My Love from the Star’ had a great impact on our success.”

 So what is next for the animated character industry in Korea? At the moment, most smartphone users using Line are based in Thailand and as a result, a theme park for Line Friends is being built abroad. Moreover, some character brands are planning to make more media content specifically targeting adults. Daily Exposure to attractive and endearing characters like Lion of Kakao Friends and Sally of Line, helps us feel like a 'kidult'. Seeing the popularity of our domestic characters grow both in Korea and overseas, we cannot help but look forward to the future of this emerging and very profitable industry.


이훈기, 이다혜, 장은재  dankookherald@gmail.com
<저작권자 © The Dankook Herald, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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