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“There is a huge buzz around LINE FRIENDS”

LINE FRIENDS and CPLG’s Steve Manners tell us more about the global character brand.

With CPLG revealing its appointment as licensing agent across EMEA for LINE FRIENDS’ Brown & Friends character brand, we thought it was a good time to catch up with an official from LINE FRIENDS and Steve Manners, evp at CPLG, to find out more on the brand which has got everyone talking.

Firstly, can you explain the background to LINE FRIENDS and how it come about?

LINE FRIENDS is a global character brand featuring 11 characters which was originally created for use as stickers for the leading mobile messenger application LINE with 200 million active users worldwide. With Brown & Friends at its heart which includes Brown, Cony and Sally, the company has emerged as a global content creator by introducing a new series of IP like BT21, characters created together with global boy band BTS, in addition to Animation Running Man and Usamaru.

Today, LINE FRIENDS has operated 113 stores globally in a total of 11 markets worldwide (as of October 2018), in trend-leading cities such Seoul, New York, Shanghai and Tokyo. It became an independent company in January 2015 from LINE, and LINE FRIENDS is now operating on its own for character business including merchandising, new IP development, licensing and collaboration project.

How has the licensing programme progressed in other territories?

As one of the world’s fastest growing character brands, LINE FRIENDS has worked with globally well-known brands and has expanded its portfolio to feature a wide range of businesses around the world, not limited to specific regions. LINE FRIENDS boasts more than 5,000 separate products through a number of different licensing deals, and LINE FRIENDS is actively engaged in licensing its characters all around the world including Korea, Japan, Thailand, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Since it started the character business in 2011, LINE FRIENDS has been gaining greater international popularity and brand value by collaborating with world-renowned brands to release authentic, unique products, including the German stationery brand LAMY, leading audio brand Beats by Dr. Dre, a leader in consumer drone and aerial imaging technology brand DJI, street-style performance brand Converse and premium British folding bicycle brand Brompton and has made a number of licensing deals all over the world.

Partnering with global retail brands such as T-mall, 7-Eleven, McDonald’s and UNIQLO for promotions has also enabled LINE FRIENDS to interact more with consumers. In particular, LINE FRIENDS ranked number one in sales for the children’s toy category for three consecutive years from 2015, at China’s Singles Day event in the biggest online shopping mall, T-mall. Also, LINE FRIENDS partnered with Pepsico China ‘Lay’s Funny Potato’ featuring LINE FRIENDS characters on its packaging and has achieved a more than 51% sales increase during its promotion period.

Last year, LINE FRIENDS won two awards – Most Popular IP and Best Licensed Product – at China Licensing Expo 2017.

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What are your aims for the brand in the UK and Europe? How will you look to build up awareness?

Steve Manners, evp, CPLG: Our initial focus will be to establish the core characters of Line Friends with the trend and fashion retailers across all CPLG markets. The main target remains fashionable millennials and the brand has already demonstrated a wide scope of executions across several product categories in Asia and the US.

Line Friends is unique in that it can be adorable but also edgy and scores high on the street credibility chart. Based on some of the key successes in Asia and the US, we will secure halo collaborations with a European focus and establish the fashion trend retailers as the Line Friends destination across EMEA.

What do you think is the brand’s USP? What will make it appeal to the UK/European audience?

First of all, LINE FRIENDS is known for its refined products, winning over the hearts of consumers across the world with adorable, stylish design and high-quality. To do so, LINE FRIENDS implements stringent quality controls and safety tests in accordance with strict internal regulations and inspections to provide consumers with reliable products.

Along with character merchandise, LINE FRIENDS is much loved by the millennials from all over the world with its stores, cafés, hotels and even theme parks around the world. LINE FRIENDS has presented a new model for a character store, and its flagship stores are well-known for characterful themes which provide a sneak peek into the daily lives of LINE FRIENDS characters and in-store cafés with adorable eateries. LINE FRIENDS aims to bring this entertainment and fun to consumers in Europe, offering LINE FRIENDS brand experiences in differentiated ways.

In addition, LINE FRIENDS strives to create the most perfect, but unexpected and surprising outcome by collaborating with exquisite brands who value heritage, philosophy and authenticity. Not only that, LINE FRIENDS aims to create quality products that reinforce the image as a trustworthy brand with a strong heritage, even if these products take longer to come to fruition.

From the German stationary brand LAMY, the Dutch design studio Mr Maria, premium British folding bicycle brand Brompton to French cosmetic brand L’Occitane, LINE FRIENDS collaborated with globally renowned brands to release authentic, unique products. Recently, LINE FRIENDS also launched first-ever character collaboration with renowned global audio and lifestyle brand Bang & Olufsen.

The LINE FRIENDS x LAMY edition recorded more than 15,000 in sales on the first day of its launch and the BROWN limited edition that was created in collaboration with Brompton, also sold out within 30 minutes of its release in South Korea. In addition, LINE FRIENDS successfully showcased the first collaboration of ‘BT21’ with Converse and it also recorded online sellouts in only an hour and a half.

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What have initial reactions been from licensees/retailers?

Steve Manners: There has definitely been a huge buzz around LINE FRIENDS across all the key categories and significant anticipation on the retail side for the brand to launch in Europe. We will be announcing some signings soon and the first range of Line Friends products will be available early next year.

What are your short-term goals for the brand in the UK/Europe?

LINE FRIENDS aims to enhance awareness on our brand in Europe and the UK. Under this objective, LINE FRIENDS will showcase diverse character merchandise from Brown & Friends including Brown, Cony and Sally in wide array of business from fashion, beauty to foods which are closely related to people’s lifestyle in Europe and the UK as well.

Brown & Friends is already beloved by consumers worldwide, presenting a variety of refined products under wide categories such as dolls/toys, stationery, digital/electronic devices, clothing, accessories, travel/camping, office supplies, interior/living and kitchen/bathroom. By launching high-quality product in stylish yet adorable design locally suitable to the EMEA market, we strongly believe that LINE FRIENDS will win over the hearts of many in Europe as well.

Also, LINE FRIENDS will soon introduce a wide range of character merchandises with BT21, one of the global popular characters IPs among millennials at the moment.

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And, longer term, where would you like to see the brand in the territories in the next five years?

In the long-term, LINE FRIENDS seeks to further expand its business across merchandise, licensing, collaborations, online business and openings of offline store, café and hotel and so on throughout Europe and the UK.

Not only that, LINE FRIENDS will continue to expand its brand portfolio to feature a wide range of character products, animation and mobile games not only with Brown & Friends, but also with its well-known IPs such as BT21.

As a global content creator, LINE FRIENDS will also continue to strengthen its brand in the global licensing business by seeking new opportunities for new IP development all around the world.

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