5 things you should know about emoji marketing


A picture says a thousand words or so we’ve heard. And we see this everyday- feelings, thoughts and conversations are expressed through photos, drawing and illustrations.

One very significant form of pictorial expression is the emoji.

Yes, those little cute expressions we use in our chats every day.

Sometimes when we don’t have the right words or are too lazy to type anything out or can’t even be bothered to dictate our message to Suri, emoji’s come to the rescue and we can keep our conversations ongoing.

But emoji’s are not limited to our lazy “no-conversation “days, they are also used to express emotions and thoughts when words really can’t describe what we want to say or when we want to enhance and emphasise what we are saying.




Whichever way, emojis are used every day.

By millions of people.

On every device.

In every continent.

For most online conversations.

In fact, the 2015 Emoji Report by Emogi research said that 92% of people online used emojis and 70% of online users found that emojis helped them express their feelings better.

With four out of ten millennials engaging in pictorial communication rather than reading, emoji’s are here to stay – and it even made it into the Oxford Dictionary when it was chosen as the word of the year in 2015.

So you see, Emoji’s are really popular and are an integral part of modern day pop-culture.

Perhaps because emoji’s are so popular in online conversations, marketing experts have also started using them in their campaigns – for some it’s effective, for others however, it fails miserably.

Emoji’s are wonderful little artistic pieces of expression and its clever how a simple picture can express so much.


So why not in marketing?

After all marketing is all about expression. About conveying the qualities of your brand and your service and product, about starting conversations with your customers and knowing how they think and what they like or don’t like. It’s about supporting your target audience through their pain and riding the wave with them to the right solution. It’s about letting them know you are the solution and it’s about doing it creatively, using design and data and all the other stuff that goes with it.

Marketing campaigns rely on triggering an emotional response from their audience and what better way to do it then with these little icons and pictures which convey how we feel and connect with each other.

Any small to mid-size business can adapt and create marketing campaigns with emojis just like the big companies who are using emojis in creative ways.

There are just five basic tenets of emoji marketing that you should follow when you embark on the emoji journey for your marketing efforts.


1. Know the meaning

Originating from Japan, emoji’s are designed with many cultural connotations and meanings – some of them are pretty obscure and it’s a bit difficult to ascertain what they meanwhile others will take on new meaning as they are used by people.

For example – the grinning face with smiling eyes is a confusing one and people often used it to express a grimacing face. Mistakenly designed by Apple, this emoji previously looked similar to Grinning Face with Smiling Eyes on iOS. Now it is commonly used to denote an awkward situation or a grimacing face.




So knowing the meaning behind emoji’s is vital before you start using them in your marketing campaigns or you will end up confusing your audience or sending the wrong message.

A great source of emojis is Emojipedia – you can check the meaning of all the emojis and it keeps you on track with the latest in the emoji world.


2. Use it at the right time and with the right context

When you are attempting to get your marketing message across with pictorial graphics, it’s vital that you use emoji’s at the right time in a marketing campaign and within the right context.

And this is possible when you know your audience.

A fast food restaurant can use fun emoji’s quite freely in their campaigns such as Domino’s and their revolutionary campaign where patrons could order pizzas by tweeting a pizza slice emoji.




Taco Bell was so convinced of the power of the emoji in their marketing campaign, they actually asked the Unicode Consortium through a petition for their own Taco emoji.

But you don’t have to do that, although developing your own custom made emoji is a pretty creative and strategic way of creating the buzz around your marketing campaign.

One example of emoji marketing which brilliantly understands its target audience was a campaign which was directed at teens and created by Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Entire advertisements consisted only of a string of emoji’s and they appeared on billboards, TV, theatres and in print. Apparently, each string of emoji’s sent a particular message such as “I’m tired of drinking to fit in.”




While the campaign completely baffled adults, it was praised by many for taking the initiative to design a campaign that speaks in the language of teens -through emoji’s- and communicates at the level of their target audience, making these campaign relevant to that segment of the audience that needs to hear it more than anyone else.

But experts worried that this campaign would draw the attention of the teens and also be mocked and turned into T-shirt designs while also leading to the ideation of drug use.

When you are working on a campaign which covers a serious topic or business, it’s important to understand the context in which emoji’s can be used and who your target audience is. In some cases it’s not appropriate and it’s better to leave them out. And in other cases, you may get derivatives of the original campaign which may mock or make fun of your campaign just like experts worried about the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids campaign. So you have to be prepared for that.


3. Don’t go overboard

Emoji’s are cute and you are tempted to use them often. When used sparingly these icons will enhance your message but go overboard and you’ll lose your audience completely by appearing unprofessional and by confusing them. But by being mindful of the context and the number of emoticons you use in your marketing message, you can actually create a message your audience will understand and engage in.

McDonalds created a campaign which was based entirely on emojis called “Good Times”. Emojis were used to create narratives which depicted good times with a McDonald’s meal –fries, burgers happy meals and desserts – even when things go wrong in your day. With customised emojis in the form of burgers and happy meals, this campaign was simple and effective and established McDonald’s position in the pop-culture era.




But sometimes marketing takes the trend a bit too far. Like the media release for Chevrolet’s 2016 Cruze. The audience was asked to decode the message or watch the news for the decoder. It only managed to confound people and is a case of “too much is not really good”.


4. Humanise social media marketing and email campaigns

Social media are prime platforms for using emojis and it is probably the first stop for your customers when they have a question or have something to say. Emojis are fun and personal ways of communicating with your audience and they encourage a two-way conversation.

Audience response is an integral part of any business, and in this way you are directly in touch with customers and know their reactions and responses first-hand. This data helps you plan your product and services, your marketing and your business.

Emojis speak the language of the people and by incorporating them in your posts, tweets and instant messaging you can quickly establish a relationship with your audience and break the ice.

Emojis can also be effectively used in email campaigns too.  By adding an emoji in the subject line, you are attracting the attention of your reader and getting more open-rates by showing them the human side of your business. These are the top emojis used in email subject lines according to MailChimp.



5. Test your campaigns

Just like all marketing campaigns, it’s vital to test your emoji marketing effort before you launch it. Testing will enable you to understand which emojis work and which ones don’t and you will know how to incorporate them into your marketing messages. This will also depend on your demographics and knowledge of who your audience is and how they consume emojis. Many people are used to using emojis in their messages these days and it would be wrong to assume that only millennials understand emojis.

But by testing your marketing you will be able to connect the right emojis with the right audience in a marketing message which engages with them successfully.

Emoji’s are popular and seem to be establishing a permanent place in our community with 87% of consumers using them for texting and messaging according to Appboy, which has been conducting research into emoji use.  800 million emoji messages were sent to customers between June 2015 and 2016, increasing emoji use in marketing campaigns by 609%.

These numbers tell us that emojis are certainly making their mark in marketing at present and although the future of these little icons in marketing can’t be predicted, they can be part of a solid marketing campaign in the current emoji environment by implementing the 5 tenets of emoji marketing mentioned above.