How 4 Brands are Using Japan’s Popular Messaging App

 By Thomas Zukowski Paul McCartney sticker on LINE

On Sunday, I returned from touring the ever-intriguing “Land of the Rising Sun.” Known for often being ahead of the curve technologically, Japan has an obsession with consumer electronics (seriously–if the number of faces you see buried in smartphones bothers you in your town, try Tokyo). I met up with my friend Jake, a four-year Tokyo resident, to get the lowdown on which social media platforms were most popular in Japan. Like in the U.S., most are using Facebook and Twitter to stay connected. There is, however, one particular app that has been sweeping the nation for quite some time: the mobile messaging app LINE.

LINE, which has 370 million users worldwide, is based in Japan, but owned by South Korea’s Naver Corporation. It enhances the mobile messaging concept with oversized expressive “stickers,” interactive games, and a variety of other features. In 2013, LINE’s revenues reached $335 million, beating out all other non-game apps. As it continues to grow, companies are beginning to view LINE as a powerful marketing tool for gaining exposure and engaging their fanbases.

Here’s a look at 4 brands that have found success on LINE:

1. Hello Kitty

Considering its popularity in the U.S. and Asia, it’s no surprise that the ubiquitous kitten was one of the United States’ first and most popular “Official Accounts.” Sanrio uses LINE to offer followers a limited-edition collection of stickers, news updates, messages, and access to exclusive content.

2. Paul McCartney

Following their Asian colleagues, American and European music acts are starting to use hybrid messaging apps as an interactive communication and marketing tool. Paul McCartney originally started a LINE account to promote his new album, then released a collection of free stickers. McCartney currently has 8.5 million followers on LINE, a staggering number when compared to his 1.86M Twitter followers. LINE provides the former Beatle with a direct channel to his fans; news updates are sent directly to their phones in the form of an instant message, unlike on Twitter where such updates could get lost in the stream.

3. FC Barcelona

Aiming to grow its base in European and South American markets, LINE collaborated with the world-renowned football clubs Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. FC Barcelona gained over 10 million followers only one week after launching its account. In addition to receiving SMS-style reports on news and upcoming events, followers can download FC Barcelona-themed stickers to share with their friends in chat windows.

4. The Walking Dead

America’s most popular drama debuted its zombie sticker set last November, but there were many more thrills to come. Following the TV screenings of each new episode, The Walking Dead’s LINE account hosts “On Air” discussion sessions attended by over 30,000 fans. With this function, a brand can steer a conversation where it wants, directly engaging its fanbase to gauge opinions. The Walking Dead also made use of the “LINE Camera” photo-editing app, providing TWD-themed templates for users to manipulate and send to one another.

While WeChat and WhatsApp currently dominate the Western market, it’s clear that LINE should not be ignored. Through real-time chats with subscribed users, free or paid sticker packs, and sponsored offers, LINE can be a powerful marketing tool for global promotion.

How would you make LINE part of your brand's social strategy?