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What are emojis and how to use them in advertising

What Are Emojis and How to Use Them in Advertising

The world would be a boring place if it weren’t for emojis. Sure, nothing beats face-to-face conversation, but when you’ve got a busy schedule and need to reach someone, a text message is your best bet! It isn’t always easy to detect sarcasm or humor in a message, and that’s where emojis come in to save the day. If you’ve ever gotten into a heated debate as to whether your message was intended to be a joke, this one’s for you!

What is an Emoji?

An emoji is a small graphic image depicting an array of human emotions. Usually resembling a yellow face with a pair of black eyes and a mouth, they can be found on nearly every smartphone across the globe. Emojis follow a coding standard called Unicode, which means that no matter what device you are using, you’ll most likely be able to read an emoji the way it was intended!

Where did Emojis come from?

The modern emojis you know and love became popular around 2011, but they certainly weren’t the first of their kind. Just take a look back into our ancient history as a civilization and you’ll see how strongly we relied on illustrations to communicate! Naturally, humans are visual creatures who thrive on the ability to use images to convey their emotions. That’s why in 3200 BC we counted on hieroglyphics to connect with other people. Fast forward over 5,000 years and we’re still using icons to enhance our messages. Instead of ancient scribes, we’ve evolved to using emoticons and emojis in digital form!

Speaking of modern communication, the inspiration behind the emoji was actually influenced by the creation of the emoticon. Wondering what the difference is between the two? An emoticon is a text-based smiley face, whereas an emoji is an image that depicts an expression, and is standardized across several platforms: iOS, Windows, OS X, and Android.

Emoji vs. Emoticon

The emoticon was born in 1982 when Professor Scott Fahlman at Carnegie Mellon University was frustrated there wasn’t a way to associate any emotion behind electronic correspondence. It led to jokes being misunderstood, sarcasm going undetected, and general blandness when communicating online. He sent an email to a message board that included the very first text-based smiley face that read, “I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: 🙂 Read it sideways.” Within only a few months, the trend caught on across the globe and soon enough, typists of all ages were incorporating smiley faces into their messages.

Though Fahlman is generally credited as being the first to use emoticons in written text, there is some debate as to whether a transcript of an 1862 speech by Abraham Lincoln contained a winking face.  We’ll never know if it was a typo or a genuine attempt at documenting humor, but it sure is amusing to think of early typists getting resourceful when transcribing his speech.


Where did emojis come from?

Source: New York Times


Who invented emojis?

Though Scott Fahlman is credited with the first use of text-based emojis, the invention of actual pixel-based emoji graphics is attributed to Shigetaka Kurita of Japan. When a pager manufacturer experienced a decline in sales after removing their one and only emoji, Kurita realized how important these icons were. In 1999, Kurita was working for the communications company NTT DoCoMo when he created the first emoji by using a 12×12 grid of pixels. What started as a fun project later turned into a national sensation when over 150 unique emojis were released for mobile phones later that year.



Who invented emojis?

Source: Toronto Star

If you weren’t a child of the nineties, these original emojis might look fairly dated at first glance. After all, Apple totally changed the game when they added emoji functionality to its messaging app in 2011. Shortly after, nearly all major smartphone carriers began to add their own emojis to their software. Before the high-five emoji was ever invented, Shigetaka Kurita was revolutionizing the digital messaging industry with simple winking faces and pixelated heart graphics. He wasn’t saving lives, but we like to believe he played a huge role in how we communicate online.

Why use emojis?

If it isn’t clear by now, emojis are really helpful tools to clarify the tone of digital conversations. It’s easy to shrug them off as a staple of millennial culture, but without these innovative expressions, we’d be sending mixed messages across the World Wide Web!

Think emojis were just for texting your friends? Think again! In 2015, the Aloft hotel in New York launched emoji room service! Guests who stay at the hotel can choose from a menu of packages and send the corresponding emoji to the front desk. Whether they need a replacement phone charger or just have a case of the munchies, hotel staff will bring them the items that correspond to the emojis on the menu. Pretty cool, right?

Can emojis be used in advertising?

To print an emoji on a promotional product or use it for commercial purposes, you must first gain permission from the copyright holder for the exact version of the icon you’d like to use. For example, if you want to use Apple’s laughing emoji, you’ll want to reach out to Apple’s legal team to see how you can go about licensing the expression. If you utilize an emoji improperly and without expressed permission, you’re likely violating copyright law. For that reason, utilizing these emojis is not allowed.

Can I use emojis in advertising?Even if your heart is after a specific emoji, not all hope is lost. Resources like offer over 10,000 icons for customers to use by purchasing a license. They may not be exactly the same as what you’ll find on an iPhone, but they are about as close as you’ll probably get!

If free is more your style, our Free Clipart Library is full of graphics for you to use in your advertising materials. Whether you need something to make your logo pop or you just want something special for an upcoming event, you won’t have to worry about acquiring any licenses or paying any fees to use our free graphics.

Much to the chagrin of marketers everywhere, brands unfortunately are not able to appear in the list of emojis on your phone. As much as we’d all love to have McDonald’s golden arches in our keyboard, that simply can’t happen. Similarly, specific people are not allowed to be featured either. That’s why you’ll never see an official Michael Jackson emoji! Instead, we’ll have to stick to generic icons like French Fries and “Man Dancing Emoji.”

How are emojis made?

If you’ve been wishing there were an emoji in the shape of a unicycle, your dream isn’t too far-fetched! The Unicode Consortium in Silicon Valley is responsible for approving all new emojis for consumers. Anyone can submit an idea for a new emoji, and the Consortium approves new graphics a rate of 50-100 per year. Before you hit “go,” know that they are selective about the types of emojis they approve. Some of their criteria include:

  • Would the icon resonate with people?
  • Is the icon easily recognizable?
  • Is the icon compatible with existing systems?

Of course, the proposed emoji can’t be too vulgar. While there is a middle finger, you probably won’t ever find anything too extreme. For example, in 2016 Apple removed the pistol emoji from iOS 10. Keeping it clean while still being relevant to the general public is a must! As of April 2018, there are 2,789 emojis in the Unicode Standard, with over 150 expected to be released in the fall.

What are the most popular emojis?

According to Apple, the most popular emojis on their platform are:

However, Apple is constantly adding new emojis to their keyboard! Some of the most recent additions include:

  • Zombie
  • Fairies
  • Dinosaur
  • Broccoli
  • Vampires
  • Hedgehog

Who knows what the future holds for the next round of emojis!

The Future of Emojis

Though it’s impossible to predict what the future holds for emojis, it’s safe to say they’re not going anywhere. The Emoji Movie was even released in July 2017! It may not have been a total hit at the box office, but if you ask us, the movie is a sign of how closely we’ve grown to our favorite emojis.

In September 2017, Apple announced they would be releasing an “Animoji,” which they described as animated versions of traditional emojis. Users are even able to customize their animoji so that it resembles their own face by using their Facial Motion Capture feature. If history repeats itself, it may eventually become a trend that all smartphone providers offer their customers. As for now, we can look forward to more colorful conversations with the help of expressive emojis!


Bignell, P. (2012, September 09). Happy 30th birthday emoticon! :-). Retrieved March 27, 2018, from

Ferro, S. (2015, July 17). How Are Emoji Made? Retrieved March 27, 2018, from

How Do New Emoji Get Made? (2017, July 27). Retrieved March 27, 2018, from

Lee, J. 8. (2009, January 19). Is That an Emoticon in 1862? Retrieved March 27, 2018, from

Mealey, R. (2017, February 10). Meet the man who invented emoji. Retrieved March 27, 2018, from

Meet the man who invented the emoji – CNN Video. (2017, May 29). Retrieved March 27, 2018, from

Kelsey Brown

Kelsey LOVES to write and she'll always make sure you're using the correct form of "your." But when she isn’t writing, she can usually be found chasing around her two rabbits, hanging at local wineries or watching an episode of Friends for the 574th time.


  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:

      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

  18. Kulpreet Chahal

    nice post. thanks for the details. quite helpful info.

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