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  1. 카카오 프렌즈
    © Kakao Friends Corp.
  2. 카카오
    © Kakao Friends Corp.
  3. 카카오
  4. SJYP X 마블
    © Marvel
  5. 카카오
    © Kakao Friends Corp.

Now's the palmy days of Kidults—don't shy away from playing with your favorite animation characters.

Wear Iron Man and Brown the bear, put on Sailor Moon make-up without shame.

Written by
Joan Park

Eyeliners and makeup powder with bedazzled cover case in a purse, notepads and pens on the desk with adorable animal characters attached to them, and a colorful phone case with a smiling bunny on it. Can you guess whose belongings these are? If you thought these might be an elementary school student’s, then your guess is very off. These are just a few items of a female office worker with more than 10 years of experience in her field. “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone at her.” That’s right. The recent phenomenon of matching all of your items with your favorite character came up with a new word derived from “color coordination,” “Character Coordination.”

Kidults, a compound word for Kid and Adult, are those who prefer items that society deems are for a younger person, and the kidult culture became popular in the recent years. It is no surprise to see adults collecting kids toys, playing video games, and reading cartoons for younger people, but what’s surprising is that now the kidult culture is so big that these adults are not ashamed of showing off their items that weren’t meant to be made for them. Instead of hiding in the corner of the room, they wander the street wearing their favorite characters embroidered t-shirts. Even if it hurts to see the bank account balance, once a cute character item captures their eyes, the game is over. For instance, when the SPA brand 8seconds introduced its new sneakers collaborated with Kakao Friends, the brand’s online shopping mall sales volume increased by about 10 units PCP. Considering the fact that 8seconds’ previous year’s brand ambassador was G-Dragon, this year’s result is quite significant. No wonder the entire advertising industry unanimously says, “One good character is worth more than ten famous celebrities.”

The world of character goods is now deeply involved in our daily lives. Kakao Friends’ golf wear, mood lights, lunch boxes, and Line Friends’ air purifier and lighting cell phone cases are not only diverse in its product groups but also high in its completeness and quality of design. The fashion industry is also actively trying to capture the Kidults. Husband and wife designers, Steve J and Yoni P announced the brand’s 2017 Spring Summer collection denim line collaborated with Marvel Comics, and the result was successful enough to attract the attention of overseas media. Fashion brand, Jill Stuart embroidered Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” characters in the brand’s clothing and accessory items such as t-shirts, dresses, clutches, and eco bags, and another fashion brand Bean Pole also launched a bag with Kakao Friends characters printed. This is the true combination of fashion and characters.

Cosmetics products that steal many beauty lovers’ hearts are no exception to this phenomenon. The beauty industry is already heavily saturated with characters like Pikachu, Rilakkuma, and Gudetama. Also, recently, GS25 (a convenience store brand) collaborated with Sticky Monsters, a design product by Sticky Monster Lab, a creative group coordinated by Korean designers, and launched character beverages, and the beverages quickly ran out of stock. They collaborated with liquor companies to design character-shaped Soju bottles, opening the era of character products for children and for adults. Lately, the company’s scope of collaboration has expanded to include cosmetics, chocolate, and fashion products.

Why and how are Pikachu and Apeach loved more as advertising models than Suzy from Miss A? In marketing, there is a term called 'Choice Set' which refers to a group of brands that we compare before making a purchase. In order to be comparable, it is important to catch consumers’ eyes consumer first, and in this case, characters are clearly visible to the eye. The intimacy you feel in a character’s round shapes and closeness, which gives you some sort of psychological comfort is not an emotion that actors from “My Love from the Star (a Korean drama)” can provide you. The cute, familiar looking characters stimulate the fragrance of your childhood and soon paralyzes the rationality of evaluating the efficiency and functional benefits of the products. It is also referred to as 'healing-type consumption', saying that purchasing gives psychological stability to the consumer. This is the context behind the current “character boom.”  

A true character lover, Lim Yu-bin, a 28 years old, starts and ends her day with her favorite characters: Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Brown, Sally, Ryan and Muzi. When she wakes up in the morning, she turns of her Cony mood light and starts brushing her teeth with a pink Apeach toothbrush. Her key ring is overloaded with miniature Mickey and Minnie Mouse dolls, and in the back of her car is a space reserved for the gigantic Christmas limited edition Ryan doll. Her most recent big purchase was the Coach purse created in collaboration with Disney, which she carries with her all the time, and her eyes are full of hearts every time she looks at the bag with big ears attached to it.

When you look at those cute and lovely characters, the stress suddenly disappears just like the snow melts in spring, and your boring, routine life gets filled with small, delightful happiness. Where do we see this phenomenon going? Will the desire for these cute characters continue? Yubin added, “When I become a grandmother, I’m going to decorate my electric wheelchair with Mini Mouse!” Seems to me, her cute, confident answer that characterized products are a joy of life speaks enough for character-products’ future.

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