Totally stuck on stickers

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By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Sunday Nation

If Betakkuma doesn’t have you dancing yet, what’s wrong with you?

LINE THAILAND says 500 million sets of its cute little stickers were downloaded last year, the stuff that quick online communications are made of.

On average, it adds, every single person using Line in this country owns 15 sets. Because they’re fun – that’s why.

Cathaleeya Vankaew warns that you should only send her sarcastic and snide “Circle Dukdik” stickers to close friends.

The emotive characters can deliver a giggle whether they’re in motion or not, give off a sound or not, sing a song or not. The Line mobile app is in use in more than 230 countries and territories. Better than 94 per cent of Thais with mobile Internet use it.

We’re the second-largest market after Japan – and apparently trying hard to catch up.

“The sale of Line stickers in Thailand is constantly growing,” Kanop Supamanop, head of Line Thailand’s B2C business, said on Tuesday amid celebrations for the third anniversary of the Line Creators Market at Central Lat Phrao.

The Creators Market is where the stickers you have to buy come from, as opposed to the “sponsored stickers” given away freely by retailers and service providers in exchange for “friending” them on Line.

Anyone with a bit of talent and imagination can become a creator, and their work is sold for between Bt30 and Bt60 per set, split with the company. “Creators Market stickers first appeared in Thailand in 2014 and we now have around 46,000 sets, created by more than 120,000 Thais,” Kanop said.

“They’ve generated Bt400 million in revenue in the past three years. It can be a promising career for anyone with good ideas!” Cathaleeya Vankaew didn’t expect her “Circle Dukdik” stickers to be a hit, but she’s now the No 2 Thai creator by sales and was recently named Best Newcomer in the business.

Saying she’s “too lazy” to draw complicated figures, Cathaleeya keeps things simple and adds a sarcastic message – the same sort of cutting remarks she says to her friends in person. “I didn’t ever think they’d become so loved by so many people.”

But the often-biting messages are best kept between close friends, she laughs.

The first set came out last October and another in December and both earned monthly “Rising Star” awards. Editions 3 and 4 appeared this year and were quickly upgraded to “official” sticker status.

“As long as I’m single I can earn a living selling stickers,” Cathaleeya said. “I love doing it part-time, and I get inspiration from my colleagues at the animation firm where I work.” All those cute kittens posted on the social media drove a Taiwanese creator who calls himself Mochi Dad to invent the stubborn, chubby “Haughty Smelly Cat”. It’s hugely popular among Thai users.

Some of these Line sticker creators are camerashy.

“My first sticker character was a bulldog named Mochi, inspired by my own pet. Then I gave him a rival cat and it’s become a global superstar!” said Mochi Dad, his face hidden behind an orange cat mask when there are cameras around. “In Taiwan we have a saying – if there are 10 orange cats, nine of them are chubby and the other one’s very fat. So my orange cat is an obsessive eater and really disdainful, and people love sharing the stickers to perturb their friends.”

Originally bearing messages in Mandarin, Haughty Smelly Cat has learned to speak Thai and Japanese, adding to his appeal in those countries. He’s such a success that Mochi Dad has been “stickering” full-time for two years. He set up his own company, Thatfish Corp, which has released 20 sets, adding a fish character to the menagerie.

There’s even a Haughty Smelly Cat Acer mobile-phone case and Playboy-brand clothing. “A single sticker can really say a lot about your emotions,” he explained. “People love sending stickers that are funny or express how they’re feeling.”

Taiwan’s Mochi Dad wears his hilariously stubborn Haughty Smelly Cat on his face.

Equally popular right across Asia is Betakkuma, a character with a human body and a bear’s head who’s seen doing oddball dances that fans enjoy mimicking in videos sprouting all over YouTube.

Betakkuma is the invention of Yoshitaka Ueki, another camera-shy masked man. “Kuma means ‘bear’ in Japanese and betak refers to something that’s cliched and outdated but at the same time retains some charm,” he said. “At least the viral videos of people copying the silly dance moves prove they love it!” Ueki’s Tokyo-based firm Quan has released more than 100 sets of stickers featuring a dozen characters, of which Betakkuma is the best known.

He’s catering to the Thai market with a branch in Bangkok staffed by a team that localises the content. China, South Korea and Vietnam beckon as future bases.

Betakkuma has appeared in seven series since his debut three years ago and there’ll be two more in September and October, launched as “official” editions by Line Japan. “The new ones will have the voice of a famous Japanese anime voice actor,” Ueki said.

Who is that masked man? That’s Yoshitaka Ueki from Japan, who created the immensely popular dancing bearman Betakkuma.

Kanop reported that funny characters are the most popular. And the more outrageous the facial expression and message, the better. “Women made up the majority of Line users originally, since they love all the cute stickers, but a lot more men are using stickers now, and they go for the funny, weird, satirical ones to say what they’re not really prepared to say or write themselves.”

Also growing in popularity are stickers so pared down that there might be no figurative character at all, just playful text, Kanop said. And meanwhile Line has the permission of a dozen music labels to use eight-second hooks from famous songs in its stickers. So how hard is it to create a sticker?

Basically, you need a simple idea and an illustration of some sort – a photograph, computer graphic or hand-drawn picture. Line Thailand has an application for Android devices (iOS version coming soon) called Creator Studio that makes the process even easier.

You whip something up, submit it for assessment and will probably soon find your handiwork “on the shelf” in the Line shop. Half the revenue from sales will be coming your way.

“It can be a nice little money-maker for creative folks and possibly even lead to a lucrative career,” Kanop said.

“There are about 800,000 creators around the world and Thailand has more than any country except Japan. We’re aiming for 150,000 registered creators by the end of this year.”

Line also wants to put its most popular sticker characters on non-digital merchandise. An online Line Gift Shop will be launched next month. So there’s another potential revenue stream for creators, and Kanop pointed out that Line also gives each of its monthly Rising Star award winners Bt50,000 to produce merchandise for sale.

The Nation
Republished with permission from The Nation
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