Everything You Want to Know About Emojis in Advertising but Are Afraid to Ask Because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It happened innocently enough. One day, a member of Quality Logo Products®’ content team checked her Twitter feed, only to find this:
Not long after, articles seemed to appear like magic, all about corporations and non-profits alike using cute little pictographs in their official communications. Bud Light did it to get patriotic. Domino’s went insane doing it to promote its new “order pizza via Twitter” service. The World Wildlife Federation built an entire fundraising campaign around it.
Emojis—those small, sometimes animated pictures you often see in texts and instant messages—are showing up everywhere. But what is an emoji, exactly? And what should you know before you use emojis in your organization’s social media updates, e-mails, or other promotional materials?
Read on, intrepid advertising professional!
What is an emoji?
An emoji is a single picture that’s used like a character of text. It can be a picture of nearly anything, from a face with a certain facial expression to an object like a star or a piece of cake.
Emojis originated in the late 1990s in Japan, where for a long time 98% of everything amazing in technology originated. Shigetaka Kurita with the Japanese mobile phone company NTT DoCoMo created them as a means of communicating with pictures. The word “emoji” comes from the Japanese words for “picture,” “writing,” and “character,” all combined like a super ’80s mecha robot to form a new word that’s more powerful.
Are emojis and emoticons the same thing?
Not really. The word “emoticon” is a mashup of “emotion” and “icon,” so even the etymology is different.
There are other key differences as well. The big one is that emojis are actually regulated and given a stamp of approval. For computing purposes, emojis are treated like a language—like English, Arabic, or Chinese—that apps and web browsers are encouraged to support.
There’s a non-profit governing body called the Unicode Consortium that has been working since the 1980s to promote standardization in computer coding. It’s responsible for putting out the list of emojis approved for cross-cultural communication today. Emoticons, by contrast, are unregulated and, new ones can spring into use anytime, anywhere, without the Consortium having to give it the thumbs-up.
The other major difference is that while emojis are fully rendered pictures, emoticons are just text-based characters intended to represent facial expressions. : ( and : ) are emoticons.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ is a more elaborate emoticon that uses a Japanese character, but it’s an emoticon nonetheless.
It gets confusing sometimes because there are some emoticons that are also emojis. ; ) is the emoticon for winking, but in a program like Skype that supports emojis, typing ; ) will produce the winking emoji:
Does every version of an emoji look the same?
Nope! The Unicode Consortium’s main job is to say that an emoji of a blushing face or a pizza exists. While it does offer some guidelines (dark hair is encouraged on human face emojis, for example), it doesn’t regulate every aspect of an emoji’s appearance. That’s why some emojis are done in black and white and others in color, or why a pizza emoji on your iPhone might have a topping that the pizza on your friend’s Android device lacks.
Twitter is one great example of this. In 2014, it implemented 872 emojis specifically for use in Twitter on both web and mobile devices. These designs were originally created specifically for Twitter, but they were interpretations of emojis that the Unicode Consortium had approved for use. (Later in the year, Twitter made their emojis open source, meaning that users could see their favorite Twitter emojis anywhere. Way to spread the brand love, Twitter.)
Why should I use emojis?
The easy answer would be that it’s trendy and all the cool kids are doing it. Fortunately for all of us, there are better reasons than peer pressure to use emojis, namely:
- They’re mobile-friendly. In case Google didn’t make it clear by giving mobile-friendly websites priority in search results, more people are reading content (including company websites and social media feeds) on their phones. Using emojis not only keeps a playful company voice going across platforms; it also keeps messages from becoming really long blocks of text. Have you ever tried to read a really long block of text on your phone? Not fun.
- They improve communication. We’re social creatures; we communicate with gestures and facial expressions along with our words. So emojis and emoticons do more than just make sure that we don’t read text with a sarcastic tone when we don’t intend it that way. They also trigger the emotional parts of our brains, almost the same way as seeing a smiling face tends to trigger a reaction in our own feelings. Neat!
Can brands have their own emojis?
Sorry, folks. Brands are free to do all sorts of other crazy things using emojis, including writing an entire press release in emojis, as Chevrolet did to promote the 2016 Chevy Cruze:
However, the Unicode Consortium will not approve brand names or logos as official emojis.
What brands can do is create custom stickers. Many people lump stickers in with emojis, but they’re technically not the same thing. Stickers are pictures that look like emojis but aren’t treated like a standardized language, so they’re not guaranteed to be supported by each and every browser or app. Often, they’re specific to one app. Some, however, are designed so that they’re shared the same way images are, so people can see them across messaging platforms.
And of course, brands are free to communicate in their tweets and social media posts using any of the thousands of emojis that the Unicode Consortium has approved. But should they?
What should I know about using emojis in promotional materials?
1) You should know your audience.
Look at those cute little emoji faces. They’re so adorable, right? Well, your customers might not think so. Ask yourself: what am I selling? Do I count tech-savvy people who appreciate cute, youthful things among my customers? Do a lot of other brands use emojis when they’re making posts here on (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)?
Your customers might not appreciate the cuteness of emojis if they’re just looking to buy pens for the office. But if your office is anything like QLP, they actually might. You know your demographics best.
Not chocolate ice cream.
2) You should know what an emoji means and what the best context to use it in is.
That little brown swirly dollop? Trust me, it’s not a mound of soft-serve chocolate ice cream. A little bit of time spent researching emojis on Google or asking your eight-year-old niece what an emoji means will spare your organization a huge headache. Don’t know what a picture represents? Don’t use it.
3) You should know whether your medium of choice actually supports the emoji you want to use.
Imagine it: you’ve spent a good deal of pressure-filled time composing the perfect Twitter joke that revolves around the shrug emoji. Then, when it’s time for your to tweet… you discover that there actually is no shrug emoji.* There’s just the ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ emoticon, which takes up too many characters.
That research thing that we mentioned in point #2 saves time as well as embarrassment!
*At the time of this writing, we’re hoping that the Unicode Consortium will fix this. We really need that emoji.
4) You should know if anyone holds the copyright to an emoji you might want to use.
If you’re just making a post on Instagram or Twitter, no big deal: just tap the emoji that’s built into the program, and you’re good. If, however, you’re thinking about printing an emoji on some promotional products, for example, you should check and make sure the version you want to use isn’t the one designed specifically for use with, say, Apple products. Emojis are a font, an artistic property, and as such they can be subject to copyright law.
So what can you do if you’re bent on using an emoji in your advertising materials? Check out our Free Clipart Library which allows you to download copyright-free art at no cost! Or simply draw your own version. After all, there are only so many ways to draw a smiley face with hearts for eyes (though there is some room for creativity).
Emojis are a form of visual shorthand that can add new dimensions to your communications. With a little bit of research and a lot of creativity, they can take your advertising from 🙁 to 😀 .
How do you feel about the use of emojis in advertising? Do you use emojis in any of your communications, personal or otherwise? Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!