TOKYO: In the battle to become the global messaging app of choice, China's WeChat and Japan-based Line have brought out some large marketing guns - TV ads featuring soccer star Lionel Messi, for instance - that have powered promising bursts of overseas growth.
The big bucks strategy stands in stark contrast to other messaging apps, or even apps in general, which spend little on marketing. United States rival WhatsApp eschews advertising altogether and has instead relied on word of mouth to become the dominant chat app in many Western countries.
WeChat, a unit of Tencent Holdings Ltd, has budgeted up to US $200 million (RM633.3 million) for marketing overseas this year, including the Messi ads. Line, owned by South Korean company Naver Corp, has relied heavily on celebrities in TV ads in many markets.
Spurring them on is the belief that now is their chance to build an international brand, and that if they play their cards right, they can become serious threats to more established social networks such as Facebook Inc and its instant messaging service.
A plethora of messaging apps, including the likes of Viber and Kik Interactive, are seeking to capitalise the appeal of free SMS services - especially in emerging markets.
But expanding overseas is tricky.
Line says it has notched up 270 million registered users in just over two years, with 80 per cent of those overseas.
Since introducing the Messi ads in 15 countries in July, WeChat - primarily seen as a Chinese app with the bulk of its 236 million active users in China - has seen the number of its foreign registered users shoot up rapidly.
It said it had 100 million registered users overseas as of end August, double the number in May.
Making money off users is something that most chat apps are leaving for the future. As such, current marketing strategies could prove costly, especially in the hard-to-crack US market.
"You can do TV marketing in Indonesia, you can do TV advertising in Spain, but if you want to do the same in the United States then your coffers must be really full," said Serkan Toto, a Tokyo-based technology consultant. Reuters