​Kakao looks to new emoticon characters for revenue boost

Kakao has launched its first original emoticon characters in five years, which it hopes will mimic the success of the hugely popular Kakao Friends.

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One of the new characters include penguin twins. Image: Kakao

Kakao, the operator of South Korea's most popular chat app KakaoTalk, has unveiled a new family of emoticon characters, its first in five years.

There are seven characters in the new NINIZ (pronounced nee-nee-z) series of emoticons, all based on animals.

Kakao launched its first batch of emoticon characters in 2012, called Kakao Friends, which were extremely well-received and have become synonymous with its chat app that has 30 million users in the country.

Their popularity allowed the company to open an emoticon market -- where chat users gift character emoticons to each other -- that, along with its gaming business, offered healthy profits before it expanded outside of chat.

The popularity of the emoticons also spawned its own merchandising business based on the characters. Its offline store is a landmark of sorts at the Gangnam District in Seoul.

The emoticons appear across all Kakao services such as its transportation service Kakao T and Kakao Bank, its mobile banking platform.

NINIZ is available in Kakao's item shop on its chat app and will likely be used for promotion in other services as well, which it is diversifying even more and combining with artificial intelligence.

Users can visit the series' homepage to find out about the individual characters' personalities and their "unique world view", the company said.

Cute character-based emoticons are hugely popular in East Asia. Japan-based Line, which is run by Korean portal Naver, also offers its own original emoticon characters.

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