Emojis in Advertising

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:

Chevy Press Release

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.

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!

expand your brand

Image Credits:
All emoji images by Phantom Open Emoji maintainers and contributors except
Pizza Slice #1: Twitter | Pizza Slice #3: Emoji One
#ChevyGoesEmoji press release by Chevrolet

Sheila Johnson

Sheila Johnson is a member of the Content Team at Quality Logo Products. Prior to joining QLP, she worked freelance in a number of capacities, including writing, editing, digital art restoration, and sorting stuff in a warehouse, because money is money. She enjoys birdwatching, hiking, and reading, which doesn't make her sound old at all. Other likes: dark chocolate, comics, science, socks with bright patterns. Dislikes: how cold her toes are ALL THE TIME. You can connect with Sheila on


  1. Anthony

    Emojis are super fun when you’re using social media and texting! I use them all the time and they can generally show some personality than just plain boring text. Maybe we will see people try to print some emojis with text on some products due to the popularity of these little designs.

    Still, I don’t see why companies that own these would care so much if they were used in an industry like ours. It would be super cool and out of the ordinary. Cool Post! #Superdupe.

  2. Serenity

    I was always on the fence about emoticons and emojis, until I read this!
    It made me realize that in a very strange ironic way it make impersonal communication more personal. I can’t tell you how many times text or messaging conversations quickly take a turn for the worst, because the undetectable tone of the message. when that happens people tend to take away their own tone as opposed to the actual implied tone. I feel both emoticons and emojis bring more clarity. Though I often get annoyed by them in the same way when people are a little too indulgent in them. For instance instead of saying text they use only emojis or emoticons, like it’s picture riddle or something, that’s when I can do without them. Just like hashtags when starts using them incorrectly I become very annoyed. But other than that it is kind of popular thing that I can get on board with. Great Post!!

  3. Kat D.

    I find emojis fun – to a point. Some people personally overuse them, which can get annoying. I do like the idea of businesses advertising with emojis. When they are put together (like the Chevy advertisement) it’s kinda fun to decipher! It’s amazing how far technology and socialism has come!!

  4. Ashley Hoban

    I love me some emojis and emoticons! =] They’re silly, relatable additions to make any bit of text feel easier to read. In my opinion, emojis and emoticons help create a comfortable bond between the sender and its receiver. Even something as simple as one smiley face breaks up the serious nature of any business-related information that would otherwise make the receiver (in my case, my customers) feel like they would have to follow a strict behavior.

    Emojis take the written word one step further. Just like in face to face conversation, a reassuring expression as a response brings comfort. That’s what emojis do for the written word that plain text will never to be able to accomplish.

    So with marketing campaigns, relating to consumers a comfortable level, thus creating the bond, is a no-brainer. Associating your brand with comfort among other positive feelings is always the goal. If an emoji accomplishes that, then why not use them?

    And I am definitely with Anthony on using some emojis on promotional products. It would be the modern twist to a usual marketing tactic! =]

  5. Leo

    I always say that a smiley face goes a long way!!! I’m an avid user of Emojis and Emoticons! With the smiley face, I can always turn an intense email to in to fun loving correspondence. For instance, my wife was emailing me on a matter and I honestly thought she seemed a bit upset. HAVE NO FEAR…EMOJIS ARE HERE! She put one of those fun loving Cat Emojis at the end of her email. We use them so often; we forget often how we related our feelings before Emojis and Emoticons existed!
    Excellent blog. This really does break it down for you! Also helps those out who are not familiar with this type of awesomeness!?

  6. Angie

    An emoji here and there is fine, but they can be overused. Sometimes they do help convey a tone to a message or email. I use for this purpose, on occasion in an email, but use them more when texting. I am more old school and don’t feel comfortable using them in an email communication to a customer, unless I know them well.

  7. Ryan

    This is a great post! We all use emojis in everyday life, so why not use them in advertising as well? Emojis are a great way to connect with the younger, text happy generation. Everybody that knows how to text using their cell phone, knows what an emoji is.
    The Chevy application of this has to be one of my favorites! I remember hearing about this a couple weeks ago on the radio, and thinking to myself, I should go online and try to decipher the press release. It’s a great way to drive people to their website and connect with the younger, technologically “hip” generation!

  8. PMO

    OK – I admit, i’m super old.

    I want to be down with emojis but I can’t get behind it! My youngest daughter will take my wife’s phone and send me whole “stories” in emoji.

    Now I know how to interpret!

  9. Jon

    Who would have thought, 10 years ago, that little smiley face symbols would have so much hype… enough to garner a post about them in a well respected blog such as this?
    I love when there is a perfect emoji for something I am looking to convey via text or social media – my new recent favorite is “the-more-you-know-star” that you get to put in a text when offering useful (or maybe trivial) information.
    Chevy having a press release in all emoji is just a sign of the times – I hope it is not a sign that it is a passing fad, because I don’t want to be the out of touch guy still using emojis when everyone else has stopped… I still throw 🙂 in my emails on the regular. I hope to see them make their way into the promotional product world (without having to worry about copyright infringement) soon!

  10. Erin

    I love emoji’s when used appropriately and it’s nice to finally know a little history behind these characters. I feel that the symbols can help add some personality and expression to text which can be critical when trying to send the right message.

    With my latest iPhone update and ALL the new ones added it may get a little overwhelming though…I even have options for different skin colors! (this may be a little overboard) but you’ve gotta be PC even in the emoji world so I get it. Thanks for the awesome info.!

  11. Jay

    I’ll admit that I resisted the urge to use emoji’s for the longest time. Then I kept getting very “innovative” combinations of them from QLP’s own Anthony Gaudio and it well… shed a new light on them.

    I get requests to have them printed on items all the time and have even seen movie plots (Seth McFarlane, I think?) written in emojis, not to mention stories behind song lyrics, mostly hip hop.

    I think they’re definitely fun, but I HOPE (this is the old man talking) that we don’t resort to going from writing letters, to email, to walking around with our faces in our phones oblivious to the outside world, to communicating solely in emoji’s! Then again, this country is run by 15 year olds so… wait, no, it isn’t!!

    Cool post though Sheila, and the copyright section of your post was an eye opener, just like everything else, you have to be careful what you print on promo products! It might not be the Nike swoosh or the Apple logo but it could still be someone’s intellectual property. Let’s all assume that it is juuuuuuust to be on the safe side!

  12. Jen

    As an emoji enthusiast, I approve of this message.

    Yes, as stated above, there is a time and place for them, and there needs to be some restraint. I do believe that falls on the end user (or, in our case here, the social media/marketing gurus of these companies). Why not break up the monotonous, overwhelming 140 or less characters with a smiley face or a poop?!

    In all seriousness, I think it is perfectly acceptable for companies to incorporate emojis in their marketing campaigns, slogans, and quick media blasts. After all, just 10 years ago, we never would have thought that we’d be getting instant responses from the company itself when taking a complaint or concern to Twitter. I’m sure our old, iPhone-less selves would have scoffed at the idea of live chatting or Instagram-following any of the brands we love. In order to stay current, I think companies have no choice but to go with the social trends. If that drills down to such a small detail as an emoji, so be it.

    With that being said, I do agree with Jon that, like everything else, this will get old fast. I feel that marketing gimmicks are always a tad behind current times. Maybe not by months or years like aunt Edna, but emojis took off a few years ago. With the push and emphasis on them just now, I think these fun little guys will fizzle out quickly. If companies can use them creatively, like Chevy, maybe they’ll have more staying power.

  13. carlos

    hello i am carlos from colombia.

    can you tell me if i can put or use emojis on my youtube channel.?

    please help me


    • Sheila Johnson

      Hi, Carlos!

      As long as you use what’s called an “open source” emoji and make sure you follow all the rules in the license, then yes, you should be good!

      Do you make money from your YouTube channel? If so, that might be a commercial use. Some people who make emojis will approve of their emojis being used for commercial use. Some won’t. Again, always check the license.

      Here are some open source emojis you can look at to start: https://github.com/Genshin/PhantomOpenEmoji

      Good luck!

  14. JJ

    Can I use the term emoji in my t shirt titles/descriptions? I drew my own emoji art, but I see a company called The Emoji Company saying they created and own the emoji brand.

  15. Jessica Marquez

    I am a Teacher at a elementary school and I create our yearbook every year, so my question is can I use the emojis as background pages of the yearbook without getting into any trouble? thx so much

  16. Charlotte Brumley

    It’s so aggravating & frustrating to see emojis angered look, flipping the bird at me, as if to say (F### U) every time I turn my phone on.” I’m unable to block or delete but forced to see.” Emoji has lots of expressions that are inviting, cute,happy, sad & yes even angry that’d entice me to install your app. But I’m forced & offended to see (F###U) on my phone. So I refuse to install your app . I wonder how many children age arranging 2- 15 see this image ? When they turn on a phone to call/text, play games, listen to music/ videos & etc . I personally do not allow my grandchildren to turn on my phone because of it . Teachers, parents, law officials and most of society discourage our children from seeing, drawing , writing or imitatet this image you choose to throw at us!!(as an advertisement logo) thank you for listening to my grievances. Sincerely
    Charlie Brumley

  17. Angelique Keeny

    Oh my goodness! a tremendous article dude. Thank you However I’m experiencing subject with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting an identical rss drawback? Anybody who knows kindly respond. Thnkx

Leave a Comment

Copyright 2003 - 2018 Quality Logo Products, Inc., Registration No. TX7-524-201. All Rights Reserved.