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18-Nov-2019 10:36

These are among the cast of characters that have made Line a household name in Japan and across Asia.

The company's app for smartphones launched in the summer of 2011, just three months after a massive earthquake and tsunami pummeled Japan's northeastern seaboard.

Oddly, you can't use Line in China but these characters are very popular there. Users send a lot of stickers -- 400 million a day, on average. Then we thought: what about Disney characters and Japanese anime [series] "Doraemon." So we started selling these. Users liked free stickers and didn't notice that what they were seeing was an ad. E-commerce retailer Rakuten invented the Rakuten Panda for Line stickers -- and now it's famous. Our services are all in the app, so many people use them without realizing. People are now more likely to access the internet with an app than a browser. In Japan delivery companies have struggled with redelivering packages to homes because people are out during the day.

Over a short period they have become famous and it's become a significant business on its own. Not many chat services have figured out how to do this. Then we had another idea: What if companies paid to offer their characters free of charge? It's an ad that's great for brands and acceptable to users. The companies drop a notice into the mailbox but nobody looks at these; young people aren't using email much so that doesn't work.

About the same time we advertised on TV, Apple released its i Phone 4s, and excellent phones using Google's Android software came out.

Suddenly smartphones went from being 10% of Japan's mobile market to about 30%.

Why do you think Line's stickers were such a hit in Japan and Asia?

In Japan there's often ambiguity in the way people communicate with each other. Instead you can send a character sticker with a vague expression.

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The disaster had disrupted lives, businesses and communications, and the free messaging app, which is owned by South Korean internet giant Naver, created a means of reaching loved ones when phone lines were still down.