Messaging app Line is in the midst of hiring advertising agencies to expand its distinctly Asian flavor of communication into the U.S., Adweek has learned.
The Japan-based mobile company has met with AKQA, DigitasLBi, Grey and MRY to plot a marketing strategy that will extend its overseas success to U.S. shores.
Line plans to invest more than $10 million in marketing, but explaining the app’s uniquely Asian messaging culture to U.S. users could prove to be challenging, sources said.
The app makes a fortune from its cartoonish stickers, which friends share via free messaging. (It also offers free voice and video calls along with gaming and other media offerings.)
Line has more than 400 million users and revenue last year reached almost $340 million—it’s one of the top players in the space that includes WhatsApp, which was recently bought by Facebook for $19 billion, and Tango, which just received an investment from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
“The big question is not only if Line’s Asian brand will translate here, but also if their primary revenue driver—stickers—will translate here and actually drive the kind of revenue they see in Asia,” said an agency exec familiar with Line’s plans.
So far, Line has made a small dent in the U.S. mobile messaging space, with only about 1 million active users, according to a source familiar with its user numbers. Line’s goal is to reach 30 million users in the U.S., the agency exec noted.
Some ad agencies that met with Line and its CEO Jeanie Han were reluctant to take on the ambitious project, the exec added. The app has shown a lot of promise, but there’s concern that its Asian-influenced cartoons might not resonate with U.S. teens.
To get the word out, Line has tested app-install campaigns with Van Wagner among teens in Los Angeles, where the company’s U.S. headquarters is based. It will also team up with social ad platform Adly, which specializes in celebrity endorsements.
Last year, Line launched an overseas campaign with Paul McCartney, who offered a sticker pack and garnered more than 3 million global followers. Messaging apps are being used for much more than texting these days and are seen as platforms ripe for bands to sell their music—or brands to sell their products.
The service appears to have some momentum. Line jumped 22 positions, becoming the No. 10 most downloaded app, not including games, just behind Snapchat on Apple’s charts in February, and it rose one spot to No. 7 in downloads on Android, according to analytics firm App Annie.
On both platforms, Line was the No. 1 nongame publisher in terms of monthly revenue in February. App Annie said most of Line’s February gains in Apple downloads came from China where it was the top downloaded social networking app.