Emojis: Cute or Corporate?

Ancient Egyptians got their messages across using hieroglyphics, a “language” that took centuries to develop. Today, millions communicate using a pictographic system that has developed in less than two decades. Yes, the age of the emoji is here, and marketers dismiss these quirky little icons at their peril.

Professor Vyvyan Evans of Bangor University’s linguistics department is an expert on emojis. In 2015, he told Newsweek, “Today, [the] emoji is incontrovertibly the world’s first truly global form of communication.”  If what Evans says is true, and it’s widely held to be so, the impact emojis will have on the way we communicate and market to consumers will be staggering.

It seems only recently I was using 🙂 or 😮 and LOL in my emails. Know what I mean ;-). Now emoticons and shorthand are going out of fashion quicker than Taylor Swift’s dresses. Taking their place are emojis, those mostly cute pictograms spreading across social media, ads and promo campaigns like crabgrass in a vegetable garden.

Originating in Japan, emojis were first created by telecom worker Shigetaka Kurita in the late ‘90s. They didn’t become popular elsewhere until 2011, when Apple made the emoji keyboard we all know — and some of us love — available internationally. Emojis were always on the iPhone, apparently, but only visible to the Japanese market. By mid 2013, Android operating systems also featured the keyboard, and so these little characters took off like a wildfire.

Why Are Emojis So Popular?
People have incredibly short attention spans (only eight seconds, according to a Canadian Microsoft study), so immediate gratification is today’s name of the game. We used to wait several minutes for photographs to slowly load on a web page in the days of dial up. We’d go and grab a coffee while our computer booted up. Today, we expect everything to be immediate. If a web page is slow loading, or if making a purchase takes more than a click or two, we move on to another site.

The biggest reason we like emojis, according to a survey carried out by Emogi (a company that helps customers relate their feelings about specific advertisements using emojis), is that these symbols are a fast, efficient way for us to send messages that carry more emotion and are actually a better fit for what we want to say than words are.

This means that in a commercial environment, customers can quickly identify what they want to purchase or what action they want to take. Boston-based InMoji has taken this one step further and developed clickable brand icons. These InMojis reside in a message and can connect people to a company’s offer via their brand icon without the user leaving the messaging. Brand messages become part of consumers’ text conversations.

Emojis: Cute or Corporate?
Think emojis are just a cute way of saying you’re sad, happy or in love and have no relevance to the real world of marketing? Think again. Domino’s Pizza allows registered Easy Order customers to order pizzas by clicking on and texting, or tweeting, a pizza icon. The lesson here is that consumers want things to be easier and quicker. The days of filling out long forms and entering credit card numbers is old school. Want a pizza? Set up Easy Order and Domino’s provides seven ways you can order your pizza überfast, including clicking on an emoji. “Click It — Buy It” is the new online purchasing mantra.

It’s not just about making it easy for customers to purchase what you are selling; Chevrolet issued a news release announcing the 2016 Cruze entirely in emoji language, making a decoder available a few days later. Around the same time, Ford announced, “We’re adding new characters to the emoji alphabet, providing Ford fans with another way to communicate with each other.” They also launched a free Ford Focus emoji keyboard for iOS and Android devices.

Seriously? Emojis?
You might think this gimmicky, a flash in the pan, but I don’t think so. Emojis are a valid new form of communication, one that transcends languages, cultures and generations. Put aside any negative feelings you might have about the “pile of poo emoji” or the recently released levitating man in a business suit (I’m not kidding) for a moment and consider: 92 per cent of all people online are using emojis, according to emoji.com. Need more convincing? The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2015 was the Face with Tears of Joy emoji — NOT an actual word! It’s the first time a pictogram has ever been chosen.

Facebook recently created five new emoji “reactions” to help users emote more accurately when commenting on someone’s post. Turns out the “like” feature just wasn’t enough for people — let’s face it, who “likes”
it when your friend posts something really sad? Emojis are steadily moving beyond the basics and allowing us to relay far more meaningful sentiments without having to fiddle with the tiny keyboard on our cell phones, which is where 90 per cent of frequent Facebook users access this social media icon.

It took Mark Zuckerberg’s team, with the help of a social psychology professor, more than a year to narrow down what could have been 20 or more emojis to six, including the existing upturned thumb. Now you have the choice of a heart, a laughing face, an “I’m amazed” face, a sad face or an angry dude (i.e. like, love, ha-ha, wow, sad, angry). What’s interesting is that Facebook provides a list of who used what emoji on each post; this offers new insight into what everyone else is saying about any given post. A simple emoji it may be, but which one we use says a great deal about our opinion on a multitude of issues. I wonder who will use that information and how.

Understanding emojis is going to be a focus over the next year or so. A major new television series in the wings is called The Great Emoji Challenge. Contestants will compete to translate emoji messages correctly in order to win a one-million-dollar prize. Domino’s has published a series of emoji flashcards to help you learn this new “language.” And if all else fails, you can turn to Emojipedia or one of several English-to-emoji translation websites.

Emojis, the U.S. Election and More
In 2016 and beyond, emojis will be staring back at you wherever you turn. Sony Animation is currently working on an emoji feature film. CNN and the Washington Post are using candidate and election emojis. Tim Hortons, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Starbucks and thousands of other household names have developed their own branded emojis (or inmojis). Burger King has a complete set of emojis to promote its chicken fries, and McDonald’s is using emojis in its advertisements. Soon, you may be using a series of four emojis instead of your bank card PIN — a U.K. online banking app already uses them. Apparently, emojis are more secure — not to mention easier for people to remember.

And contrary to what you might think, emojis are not used specifically by the younger generation. In fact, they tend to be less age specific and more gender specific — 60% of women report using emojis frequently, as opposed to 41% of men, according to emoji.org.

Get Emoji-Savvy
No matter the size or sector of your business, you would be wise to start developing an appreciation for this new communication tool now because emojis are going to be an integral part of the marketing mix for the foreseeable future.