TV Ads Are A Surprising But Important Part of Line & WeChat’s Indonesian Marketing Strategy

As the War of the Asian Mobile Messaging Apps heats up, Indonesia is becoming one of the most important battlegrounds for players like WeChat and Line–and TV ads are a surprising but effective part of their artillery. Though the country currently has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in Southeast Asia, a large and youthful population (27% of its 242.3 million people is 14 or younger), and rapid mobile Internet usage growth means there is plenty of potential there for tech companies.

WeChat and Line are in a very close race to the top. On Sunday, Chinese Internet giant Tencent declared in a press release that WeChat had hit the top of the charts for both the App Store and Google Play in that country. Tencent’s announcement came just one week after Japan-based Naver said Line‘s Android app (link via Google Translate) had taken the top spot.

TechInAsia’s Enricko Lukman writes that TV ads were instrumental in boosting WeChat to the top in Indonesia (Line’s own TV ad made its debut on Indonesia’s airwaves last month.) In fact, Tencent’s WeChat team claims that the app started adding 90,000 new users per day after its TV ads started airing. According to Tech In Asia’s calculations, WeChat has at least one million users in Indonesia now. Lukman notes that Korean messaging app KakaoTalk, which is the only messaging app rival to Line and WeChat in Indonesia that hasn’t launched a TV ad yet, has slid down to number 50 for Android app downloads from 25 in February, according to AppAnnie. In Indonesia’s iOS App Store, KakaoTalk is currently at number 76.

Indonesian tech blog DailySocial writer Aulia Masna says that TV ads work in Indonesia because in a country that has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in Southeast Asia (roughly 20 percent, according to a January 7 article in The Jakarta Post), traditional media still holds the most sway over middle class viewers. Remco Lupker, co-founder of e-commerce site TokoBagus, further breaks down how offline advertising translates into more users in Indonesia. Though TV and radio campaigns do not have the momentum or instant conversion rates of online advertising, the trade-off is that they provide an instant boost in brand recognition, Lupker writes, which in turn creates a long-term effect by placing a product among the top players in a space, at least in the public’s perception.

There’s a caveat, however: a pricey traditional media campaign only works if a product already has a large presence and user base. And its certainly not the only marketing strategy being explored by messaging apps in Indonesia. Korean-based KakaoTalk is taking a more subtle approach to marketing, relying on frequent events and viral marketing on social networks and blogs. Its low-key tactic seems to be working so far–KakaoTalk may not have the download numbers of WeChat or Line yet, but the company reported 288 percent growth in Indonesian users between January and February. As Indonesia’s mobile Internet usage begins to fulfill its promise, it’ll be interesting to see what approach works best for developers looking to break into that market.