Marketing With Emojis

“There’s science in everything. Even emojis,” says General Electric – and GE should know. For two days earlier this month it collected the characters from consumers in exchange for videos of science experiments cooked up at New York University’s chemistry lab.

The effort included a microsite on which emojis (or emoji, if you prefer) were laid out like the periodic table, each one tied to a unique experiment. A Twitter campaign included promoted tweets, along with appearances by media personalities like Bill Nye and Baratunde Thurston. And while Twitter was a primary distribution platform, it was Snapchat that GE used to encourage interaction with the project.

GE’s Emoji Science was more media event than marketing campaign, but it marks yet another brand effort to leverage emoji popularity. In the spring, Oreo ran a mobile initiative in China that used the icons to boost engagement on messaging apps like WeChat. According to reports, Oreo Bonding Emoji generated some 99 million consumer-generated emojis in just 11 weeks.

After The Unicode Consortium’s summer announcement that it was considering approving more than 250 new emojis, and the later news that the number had been downgraded to 37 “candidates,” Taco Bell petitioned on to have the organization sign off on a widely-requested taco emoji. “THE TACO EMOJI NEEDS TO HAPPEN,” the company wrote. With 17,500 supporters already – and heaps of free press – the brand may get its marketing wish.


And in a trio of video ads from Starbucks, which work in tandem to tell a relationship story, the brand uses text messaging with emojis to capture some of the “important moments” that are incited by a trip to Starbucks.

So what’s the appeal of these funny little pictographs? They communicate expressions without the need for words, which in this era of memes and Vines and 15-second news is a valuable thing. Consumers love them for their charm, and because they “make us feel good.” Increasingly, though, emojis are also a necessary part of digital communication. Without them, how would we know for sure what a client, boss, or significant other meant to convey? Email and text messaging are breeding grounds for misunderstandings. Emojis take the place of the facial expressions we’d use to measure meaning in the in-person conversations that are now so often – and so easily – replaced.

For marketers, emojis serve another purpose. Because they’re so widely used by the coveted Millennial market, they allow brands to connect with young consumers by attracting attention and appearing more relevant.

If you’re thinking about infusing your messaging with some visual ornamentation, start by knowing your vernacular. HubSpot recently released a handy emoji guidebook that’s as useful as it is entertaining. Others have done the same. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the emoji language – a useful skillset to have – consider how and where the icons might fit into your marketing communications. The nature of your product and your target audience will determine the degree to which emojis belong in your campaigns.

So will testing. Social platforms where emojis are ever-present, like Twitter and Instagram, are a logical place to begin gauging consumer response. If you get a positive reaction from your followers on these sites, it might be time to work the visual marketing add-on into additional channels like Instagram and email.

Emojis are already so embedded in our culture that they aren’t likely to be a fad, but brands should still approach them with caution. That said, when they come with a payoff, as in GE’s Emoji Science campaign, consumers might just give them a big emoji-thumbsup.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.