Invented in the late 1990’s by Japanese designer Shigetaka Kurita, the evolution of emoji stemmed from the humble emoticon. They were developed to provide the emotional injection that emerging communicative technologies lacked. I must confess that until recently I’ve questioned their use and influence.
My concern was that – in the new digital age – youngsters (and more alarmingly adults) were using emojis to replace our beautiful linguistic heritage. But as my cynicism and naivety subsided, my appreciation for these little blighters grew in tandem. This post will assess the reasons they’ve grown into such an integral part of communication and how emojional marketing has been incorporated by brands.
The importance of faces
Mitchell Stephens, professor at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, explains how emojis “give people something that has been missing in writing for the past five and a half thousand years.” The ‘something’ being visual expression in written communication.
Science tells us, during conversations with our peers, we tend to mirror the facial expressions of the person we’re talking to. It helps to build the foundations of lasting, worthwhile relationships. Indeed, seeing a smiling emoji at the end of a text message will trigger the same part of the brain that reacts to seeing a smiling human face.
Emojis are particularly good at humanising brand messages whilst speaking the language of consumers. However, intelligent marketers know that with some creativity, emojis can be used for more than just emotional expression. They can be used for emotional instigation.
One powerful example was launched by WWF – not the formerly named wrestling federation, but the World Wildlife Foundation. In May they kicked off the hashtag #EndangeredEmoji. This campaign brought to everyone’s attention the fact that 17 of the animal emojis used daily actually depict endangered animals. Not just informative, but their dedicated website for the campaign encouraged people to donate 10 pence by tweeting one of the emojis.
At Dusted we like our beer, so Bud Light’s American Independence Day tweet was particularly engaging. For the annual celebration, Bud Light tweeted the American flag made from beer, fireworks and flag emojis next to the hashtag #4thofJuly. The image was retweeted close to 150,000 times and provides a good example of how emojis can be utilised to promote your brand.
After widespread calls from fans for the reinstatement of their infamous Chicken Fries, Burger King made them a permanent addition to the menu. To celebrate, they released their own emoji keyboard available for download from iTunes and Google Play – arguably the most shareable content since The Crazy Frog.
So whilst you may debate the usefulness of a chicken fries emoji keyboard, you can’t argue with the two billion emoji-using smartphone users worldwide. Universally understood, emojis surpass barriers of both written and spoken communication. All of this whilst making us feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Be gone emoticon, your time has passed 😐
- Digital Marketing.