After Pivoting To Be U.S. Only, Mobile Messaging App Lango Adds Topical Emoji To Piggyback On Trends & TV Chit-Chat

Lango, the U.S. mobile picture-messaging app formerly known as Zlango and backed by Benchmark and DAG ventures to the tune of $20 million in total (raising $6m in its most recent round), is sharpening its focus on its target U.S. market by launching topical pop culture emoji and weekly packs of retro icons. Eight to 10 new textable emoji/icons will be released each week, plus retro icons on Thursdays, for users to download. The new emoji will be based on “current conversation” and gossipy trends.

Whether you want to call them topical emoji, icons or stickers — the latter being the term used by app rivals such as Viber and Line for their own visual messaging content — they are basically all the same thing, albeit Lango’s emoji are being designed specifically to tap into North American pop/gossip cultural. A move it’s clearly hoping will give it a lift vs its global competitors. However Lango is not alone in this thinking here. While Japan’s Line messaging app is most famous for its kawaii characters — e.g. Moon, Brown and Cony — it employees localisation teams to produce culturally specific stickers for each market. Thereby shrinking the ability for local messaging apps to stand out.

Still, you can argue that a few U.S.-flavoured stickers in a huge catalogue mostly composed of sometimes-lost-in-translation kawaii is not the same as purely U.S.-centric emoji, released to coincide with and exploit the latest TV gossip sensations. Or that’s what Lango will be hoping anyway. Slated for upcoming release are a Game of Thrones icon on Friday — “just in time for the finale” — a Father’s Day pack next week, plus a new Duck Dynasty pack. On the retro front, icons based on classic cars and characters from throwback sitcoms like Friends are planned. This summer also expect it to release emoji based on celebrities’ babies, and a Tribute to America pack for the July 4 holiday.

Here is a handful of the sort of topical emoji Lango will be offering, including characters from TV show The Voice:

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Tapping topical trends is an obvious way to piggyback on the cultural zeitgeist but Lango’s retro sticker packs are also part of its user acquisition strategy, since it plans to target these at existing enthusiast communities. “We are identifying the ‘queen bees’ or populators of specific interest communities and exposing them to our content,” the company tells TechCrunch. “People who love to follow retro cars online (there are thousands of fan groups dedicated to retro cars), love the idea of creating and sending messages with Lango images.”

Lango relaunched its app this March — pivoting from its prior global focus to specifically target the U.S. and also to pursue this “meme-like social sharing” instead of its past modus operandi of auto adding emoji for every word typed in a text, which sounds, well, pretty annoying. “The idea now is have each text centered upon a more descriptive emoji,” it explains.

It isn’t currently breaking out user numbers for the new Lango but says some of its previous users have transferred over (it hit a million users four months after launching its original app, back in 2012). It also says more than half (60%) of its user base have come from friends inviting friends, and the vast majority (85%) of all messages sent within its platform are using its icons.

As with lots of mobile messaging apps, Lango is tapping into the boom in social photo-sharing that has, in recent year, inflated Instagram and continues to produce new types of pictorial/visual messaging mediums, like SnapChat and Urturn.

Lango rowing back from the global mobile messaging space is likely a measure of how competitive it has become, with tech giants including Facebook (with Messenger) and most recently Google (with Hangouts) jumping in, joining long-standing established players such as WhatsApp and fast growing newer entrants coming out of Asian including Line and WeChat. Regrouping by dialling back and focusing on one market to build a local base seems to make sense with so many giants going global.