Character merchandising used to be a business belonging to traditional content producers with established retail distribution channels, such as Disney and Warner Bros.
That is no longer the case, thanks in part to mobile and software technology that has allowed everyone, including mobile messaging services, to break into the character business both online and offline.
KakaoTalk and Line, Korea’s two biggest mobile messaging services, are bringing their unique and funny characters from their chat services to life as they aggressively market them not only as stickers and emoticons on their mobile platforms but also at pop-up retail stores.
Kakao, the operator of KakaoTalk, ran two pop-up shops between April 25 and May 11 at Hyundai Department Stores in Mok-dong in northwest Seoul and Samseong-dong in southern Seoul.
Customers hold KakaoTalk character dolls at the messenger service’s pop-up store in Sincheondong,Seoul. (Kakao Corp.)
Korea’s No. 1 messaging service said it sold 200,000 character products ranging from dolls and umbrellas to cups and cushions in the first three days of the opening.
Some 200 people were lined up on the first day for items featuring Kakao’s crossbreed dog Frodo and his girlfriend the cranky cat Neo, as well as Muzi, a radish in a bunny costume.
“Kakao will further license manufacturers to produce a greater variety of products using its characters, called Kakao Friends,” said Lim Sun-young, a Kakao spokeswoman.
Kakao attributes the popularity of its character products to its iconic emoticons, which a large number of mobile subscribers use to express their feelings while chatting.
Korean search giant Naver’s Line is also seeking to introduce its own troupe of characters called Line Friends, including Moon, Brown and Cony, at pop-up stores and through animations.
A Lotte mall in Myeong-dong is decorated with Line’s characters, called Line Friends.(Line Corp.)
It opened a Line Friends store on the first floor of the Lotte Young Plaza mall in the shopping district of Myeong-dong last month, and has posted the largest sales among shops on the same floor, it said.
The messenger developer, which has more than 400 million subscribers, is launching character stores in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Jakarta.
Line said around 100 people queued up for the opening of the Singapore store in late April, and it is planning to develop animations and comics featuring the characters.
Relatively small but competitive mobile messaging firms also plan to enter the character merchandise market.
One such firm is VCNC, which runs Between, a mobile messaging app for couples.
“VCNC considers character merchandising as one of its business models,” a VCNC official said.
The company has recently announced the launch of an e-commerce store to sell products specifically targeting couples.
By Kim Young-won (firstname.lastname@example.org