Love them or loathe them: are emojis here to stay?
Ah emojis, the colourful little icons that decorate, or litter, our phone screens – depending on which way you look at it. The term ‘emoji’ literally means ‘picture character’ in Japanese, and the man we have to thank for this invention is Shigetaka ‘Mr Emoji’ Kurita, who created the first emoji in 1999 whilst working at NTT DoCoMo, the leading mobile operator in Japan at the time. Kurita apparently took inspiration from Manga comics, street signs, and even the symbols used in weather forecasts, when coming up with his creation.
It seems emojis are now very much a normal part of day to day life – they even snuck onto our cinema screens early in 2017, with the release of ‘The Emoji Movie’. Where once we had text slang or abbreviations to simplify communication, now we can easily illustrate any message with just one swift tap of our phone. So, move over ‘LOL’ (that’s ‘laugh out loud’ to those not well versed in the native texting language of millennials) and make way for the ‘crying with laughter’ emoji. In fact, the usually conventional Oxford Dictionaries even broke tradition in 2015 when they named said emoji as the word of the year. And we can’t say we’re all that shocked – it’s certainly the most used emoji on the majority of our phones here at Shine.
When given the choice between only being able to text or only being able to call, about 75% of millennials chose texting. Perhaps it is unsurprising then that so many people use emojis almost as if they were punctuation – no longer constrained to using exclamation marks whenever you’re angry, excited, or just feel like shouting. The various ‘smileys’ now available even act like expressive full stops at the end of every sentence, giving meaning to the words that came before. And maybe this is a good thing. In a world where so much of our communication has become non-verbal, miscommunication poses an ever-present risk to friendships – and even to brands.
It is always difficult to tell how something is meant when viewing a message through a screen, without any visual cues to go by – which is where emojis come in. They help add facial expressions, humour and emotion, and are a quick way to signpost the intended sentiment of a message. A risqué text instantly becomes light hearted with the addition of the ‘crying with laughter’ emoji, and slightly more suggestive with a ‘wink’ face. Seeing a smiley-face emoji even produces the same reaction as seeing a smile in real-life, apparently.
Of course, there are always exceptions. You might think the ‘upside-down’ smiley is cute and cheerful, but in reality it is the embodiment of passive-aggression – usually received when you’ve annoyed someone, albeit unintentionally. The ‘upside-down’ smiley is effectively the picture equivalent of saying, “that’s fine”, when really we all know it’s not fine. The ‘thumb up’ emoji was most likely intended to mean something along the lines of ‘great stuff’ or ‘yesss’, but recently seems to have become somewhat more laced with sarcasm. Do you actually want to come with me to that hip new place in town – the one that serves avocado on toast for breakfast and smoothies in jam jars? Or are you just mocking me with that big old thumb?
Emojis can be quite divisive then, it seems. This is certainly the case for our marketing team here in the Shine office, where our feelings and opinions about these little icons are somewhat mixed. Craig loves them – and would embellish every email or message with an emoji if he could get away with it. Dean on the other hand, is the emoji Grinch.
“Do you actually want to come with me to that hip new place in town – the one that serves avocado on toast for breakfast and smoothies in jam jars? Or are you just mocking me with that big old thumb?”
Elsewhere, people also seem to feel very strongly about emojis. When Apple changed the peach emoji in 2016 to look more fruit-like – instead of resembling a rather juicy behind – people were outraged. Users were apparently not a fan of seeing one of their five a day in their racier WhatsApp chats, preferring the altogether more salacious message the ‘peach butt’ could imply. The hashtag #RIPBootyPeach even started trending on Twitter. Apple later changed the emoji back to its former voluptuous glory – having learned their lesson not to mess with people’s beloved emojis.
IF THE SHOE FITS
So, clearly there is a lot of love out there for emojis. But are they in danger of making brands look unprofessional? Using them certainly backfired for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, when she asked students to tell her how their loan debt made them feel using three emojis or less. But emojis were apparently not enough to describe the feeling of being burdened by a crippling $200K debt. One Twitter user even said, “This is like when your mom tries to be hip in front of your friends and totally fails at it”.
Kim Kardashian on the other hand made a million dollars in just one minute, and even caused Apple’s App Store to crash, with her ‘KIMOJI’ app – which gives users access to over 1,000 Kim themed emojis, stickers and GIFs. And undoubtedly makes many of us question the state of the world we now live in…
Both Hillary and Kim’s use of emojis were intended to connect to the younger generation – but clearly even millennials think there is a time and place to use them, and a serious discussion about student debts is obviously neither. Or perhaps it is more about who is using these emojis, rather than how. If there’s one piece of advice you can take from Hillary’s failed campaign, it is that if emojis don’t fit authentically with your brand, then it’s probably best to avoid them altogether.
HANDLE WITH CARE
Evidently, emojis should always be approached with caution. In the Shine office, we’re in general agreement that overzealous use can often come across as too casual – a failed attempt to be ‘down with the kids’ which ultimately cheapens the brand. But, when used well, emojis can actually have a great impact on your brand. By using them in tweets or posts, brands can increase their engagement levels by 25% on Twitter, and 17% on Instagram, according to a report by Quintly. It’s all about knowing your audience though. Whilst emojis can show your playful side, they need to be carefully considered – ensuring they are reflective of your brand message and target audience.
“Overzealous use can often come across as too casual – a failed attempt to be ‘down with the kids’ which ultimately cheapens the brand”.
But the real question is, are emojis here to stay? Well, it’s difficult to say, and we’re a bit undecided. Whilst they might be everywhere at the moment, this leaves them open to becoming overused – much like when a song is overplayed on the radio – and means they could soon become old news. But then again, it’s been nearly two decades since emojis were first created and they’re still here.
Either way, emojis are big news right now, and as so much of marketing is about remaining current and ‘in the moment’, you need to be thinking about if (and how) you could be using emojis to boost your brand.