Emojis, should brands get involved?

You aren’t still using LOL in your text messages are you? OMG you are behind the times!  1

Hang on, who uses OMG either!!  2  3

We have been shortening words and using acronyms in digital media for years. Small screens and being on the go when typing means we simply must make some short cuts.  Why type “Be Right Back” when you can type BRB? I am still yet to learn all these shortcuts but a good reference (if at all interested) is this site.

The issue with digital communication (especially when immediate) is that it can lack tone. I know I am certainly guilty of coming across in a way that I hadn’t intended because I didn’t insert “ha ha ha ha” at the end of the sentence.  I assumed the was implied. Apparently not.

The good news is that in the last few years we have seen the rise of the Emoji. Emoji means picture (e) character (moji) and it’s a Japanese portmanteau. They are  images you can incorporate into text, email, twitter, Facebook and chat applications to convey a message or an emotion.  They have been widely accessible since 2011, when Appleincorporated them into iOS 5, but their level of popularity is at an all-time high. 58 percent of consumers currently use five or fewer emojis on a regular basis, which could suggest they’re being used as much for functionality as for fun. One study estimates 64 percent of millennials use emojis on a regular basis.

Look, I was against them at first. Don’t really know why. I thought of them as one of those things that teenagers used or indeed adults who were just too enthusiastic. Finally I dabbled in one or two here and there and well now, I’m borderline fluent. Kind of addicted actually..

The question is, should brands get involved?

Many already are. In the USA Taco Bell managed to get the Unicode Consortium – the group that oversees Unicode standards – introduce a taco emoji. Burger King promoted the return of its Chicken Fries with an emoji keyboard and emoji-based content on Twitter and Kik. Oreo launched a mobile marketing campaign in China. The campaign allowed parents to take photos of themselves and their children and to paste them on to dancing emojis. In less than three months, the campaign generated nearly 100 million emojis.

Branded emojis and stickers are so effective for brands because they offer an entry-point for companies to integrate themselves into daily conversations.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and emoji are just the next evolution of communicating.  Plus, emojis can transcend even language barriers. A smiley face is universal, and now there are literally thousands of emojis that are gaining worldwide acceptance and allowing an entire generation to communicate across borders.

But understanding why consumers use emojis is an important part of knowing how to apply them to marketing. It started as a way to help create emotional punctuation and have some fun but it is so much more now. Emoji add context, enable wordplay, insert nuance, and let you speak your mind while taking the edge off your message. You can create whole sentences and convey multiple messages/emotions/thoughts with a few pictures positioned in a way that can change their meaning. Research also shows that looking at a smiley face online is akin to looking at a happy face in real life. It humanises the message.

Emoji are an inherently mobile form of communication. As a result, they effectively personalise campaigns to a mobile audience, which is crucial for success given the personal nature of a mobile device.

The brands that have been the most successful are the ones tapping into the emoji world not just for the sake of jumping on a trend or connecting with the youth. They are introducing them for utility. Dominoes in the US allow you to use emojis to order pizza by tweeting a pizza slice emoji to the restaurant chain.

Is right for all brands though? Do politics, finance, and emojis mix?

If your brand is perceived as intellectual and relied upon for serious data and insight, you need to maintain an authoritative voice and emojis never really deliver the right tone for this. Some have tried and failed miserably losing credibility along the way and coming across as condescending.

With that said, they can be used for serious topics quite successfully when delivered with purpose. In March 2014, Petalaunched an emoji campaign aptly-named Beyond Words, aimed at increasing engagement with their target audience. Peta sent a text asking people to text back a heart emoji.  Respondents are automatically opted in to receive Peta mobile alerts, and are invited to retweet the campaign video on Twitter and to share campaign related posts.



Weighting it up

Incorporating the language into your campaign is a judgement call based on knowing your audience and respecting your customer. Use emojis to enhance an admirable or entertaining message, and you may be rewarded. Use them to pander to millennials, and you should prepare for a possible backlash.

Brands are also learning the hard way that using emojis can paint a target on their backs. Recently, McDonald’s erected a billboard near London that used emojis to suggest that the solution to gridlock is a pitstop for some fries. A graffiti artist made a modification that torpedoed the message in viral fashion.

Emoji Twitter

In summary, what is clear is that the consumer journey must be as easy as possible. If the rise of emoji teaches us anything, it’s that we are looking for more effective ways to communicate more information, faster. The brands that win are the ones that will deliver amazingly simple customer experiences.

Test everything! Emoji are becoming engrained in our society and are not likely to go away anytime soon, but emoji marketing may not be for everyone. Start small, and test an approach that may work for your brand.

Author | Hayley Spence