The Japanese have been acquainted with mobile social media longer than the West; they commute a lot, and for much longer than most us. Like us, in a culture than frowns upon chatty-commuters and privileges silence on the Tube; mobile social media has played an important role in constantly connecting people.
Meet LINE – Japan’s no.1 social app, now reaching Western shores. Based in Japan, but owned by South Korean Naver Corporation, LINE boasts a user base of now 400 million. In fact, where it took Facebook 3 years to reach 58 million users – it took LINE just over 1 year (399 days.) With an internet penetration of 80% – Japan is the most connected country in the world, and also the most social.
It’s no surprise then that social media in Japan features two distinct aspects; it has dominated mobile internet for over a decade, and is more customizable than Western social apps are. If you were to pick up a Japanese social app right now, you would find that it is 1- full of games and gimmicks and 2- full of multimedia ads.
The Western schema of sleek, uniform and “contained” apps don’t sync in Asia; LINE is fun, endlessly modifiable, chaotic and, yes, “cute.” Because cute sells huge in Japan! Revenue from LINE last year reached £335 million, mostly from social games, but 20% coming from “stickers” – oversized, emotional gif-like emoticons – available to buy from $1.99 a piece, or from LINE’s own free brand. However, with a sponsored sticker brand charge of $250,000 a month, marketers shouldn’t gasp too much when they read that over 1 billion “stickers” are sent everyday on LINE.
That’s one of the biggest differences between LINE and Western social apps, which should make every ad agency’s ears prick up; whereas you can’t sponsors private messages or “smilies” on Facebook, LINE users are everyday using sponsored “stickers” in all interactions they have.
The space afforded to ad marketing on LINE is huge – and that’s one of the reasons LINE has come so far, so fast. With strong ad and celebrity endorsement, LINE threw open its doors in creating an endlessly modifiable messaging platform, structured around a chaotic and colourful multimedia formula which doesn’t constrict users to any single mode of communication. Western users of social apps notice even the slightest changes in the décor of their platforms – will Western apps lose in the long run against the app giants of Asia?