Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably already know what an emoji is. Needless to say, humans have been using emojis in so many different forms and ways ever since it was created in 1999 by Japanese artist Shigetaka Kurita.
From daily conversations, reactions, and discussions, emojis have served their purpose as entertainment and self-expression in the digital era. In the 21st century, emojis have come to serve another purpose—marketing.
So, what exactly is emoji marketing on social media, and why are businesses trying to adapt to this unique style of marketing to attract younger audiences?
History of emojis
Emojis were first used and created in 1999 by Japanese artist Shigetaka Kurita for a Japanese mobile carrier. The first set of 176 emojis comprised a 12×12 grid of pixels to make communication in the mobile carrier platform more simple and stylish—using a single character or image to convey a particular word, information, or feeling. The first emojis comprised those that portray weather, traffic, technology, and time.
In the mid-2000s, emojis became available through separate apps, and in 2011, Apple added an official emoji keyboard, followed by Android.
Since then, emojis have adapted through the evolution of times, adding hundreds of emojis representing nature, culture, religion, nationalities, races, and events.
What is emoji marketing?
Emoji marketing, as the name suggests, is a marketing method wherein businesses and organizations use digital emojis in their social media posts or have utilized paid marketing efforts to customize emojis representing their brand.
The use of emoji marketing is generally geared towards the goal of generating social media engagement, improving brand image, and highlighting important ideas through creative social media posts.
Why is emoji an effective marketing strategy?
What makes emojis an effective marketing strategy has largely to do with the audience to which the posts are directed. The shift from a text-centric to an image-centric approach in marketing has been mindblowing in recent years, especially for millennials and Gen Zs.
According to a piece by Forbes, content with any kind of image gets 94 percent more views than content without images. With the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and AI programs like ArtSmart, even non-graphic designers could create customized and unique images for their pages.
At the height of the pandemic, nothing was more important than informing the public of health protocols, and studies showed that public recall, sentiment, and willingness improved with the use of infographics rather than plain text only.
Because the attention span of audiences in the digital space has tremendously decreased, marketers and businesses need to adapt and find a way to grab the reins back and catch their attention.
Michael Power, CMO at DTF Transfers, says, “Emojis offer less condensed visuals and information than infographics, but just enough color, fun, and detail to make a post more eye-catching, engaging, and relatable to a regular social media user.”
Examples of emoji marketing campaigns
There have been many brands that have capitalized on the use of emojis to supplement their marketing efforts on different platforms. One of the most popular platforms where emojis can be utilized effectively is X (formerly Twitter). According to a study published in Sage Journals, there is a positive correlation between emojis and brand engagement, and the use of emojis can further brand engagement.
If you’ve ever tuned in to an Apple event, you’d most likely see the #AppleEvent hashtag all over X (Twitter). For the September 2023 Apple Event, Apple made use of hash flags, as they always do! A hash flag is a custom emoji accompanying a hashtag used for a particular event—which has shown success in event engagement and marketing for Apple, together with their custom-like features on X.
Here’s their hash flags for the September 2023 Apple event, as well as the ones they’ve used since 2019:
According to Ben Knegendorf, Co-Founder of Dropship Breakthru, “Apple Event’s hash flags have become an iconic part of the event—a marketing in and of itself. When you log in to X and see a hash flag for #AppleEvent, you’ll immediately know Apple is having a new release again, making Apple loyalists and curious audiences tune in to the event as well.”
Popular miHoYo game Genshin Impact has also leveraged the use of emojis in their games, characters, and marketing efforts.
On X, the official #GenshinImpact and #Genshin hashtag include hash flags of its iconic character, Paimon. On the official game chat, users can also make use of chibi emojis based on the game characters. miHoYo has also made these emojis available for download and can be used in Discord and Slack as well.
By making these character emojis freely available for use, miHoYo has gained an effortless marketing scheme through its players who make use of the emojis on different platforms.
According to Eric Mills, Owner of Lightning Card Collection, “When Genshin Impact dropped, it was the game that everybody in the gaming sphere talked about—from its in-game visuals to its intricately designed characters.” He added, “It was a moment of genius for them to make these coveted characters into emojis to make their game more well-known even to an unknowing audience.”
If you get hungry just by the photo of a pizza, Domino’s definitely stepped up the game by letting you order a pizza just by a pizza emoji. On their official website, you can order a pizza by simply texting the pizza emoji to confirm your order as part of Domino’s AnyWare Campaign.
While this is just one part of Domino’s Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) efforts and its first attempt at digital ordering in 2019, they have wisely and wittily integrated a pizza emoji to let them know we want a pizza—and it generated them 2 billion earned media impressions, including segments on major TV shows like Jimmy Fallon and Ellen.
On World Emoji Day (that’s an internet thing, and yes, it exists—come celebrate with everybody every July 17th), the official Minecraft account on X posted a set of green and black emojis that formed their logo in a true Minecraft manner. On brand—literally—should we say?
To which their comments and replies were also barraged by users and official accounts riding on the same fun—-making their own Minecraft emojis.
Now, this is how you do engagement and marketing.
As an animation studio, Pixar knows the power of animations, emojis, and visual cues very well. This is why it comes as no surprise that almost every post on X of the official Pixar account has a corresponding relevant emoji like this:
A dragon emoji for a dragon character. Pretty straightforward.
However, some emojis used on Pixar’s account required a certain level of connection and understanding with their shows—like this balloon emoji on a drawing of Carl and Ellie Fredericksen from the Pixar movie UP.
How to make your emoji marketing strategies effective
Emojis are very commonly used for daily conversations. So, how do we ensure that emojis for marketing go beyond simple conversation supplements but as a powerful marketing tool? Here’s how:
Be consistent with your brand
The most important thing to remember when using emojis for marketing is to stay consistent with your brand.
If you’re a business in the food industry, you’d likely use a lot of ????????????or any food emoji that suits a specific post. That, of course, doesn’t limit you from being creative.
If you can make a lettuce image from green blocks emoji (like what Minecraft has done) or any other innovative methods of using emojis, you will likely see a rise in your social media engagement and metrics.
Being consistent isn’t limited to what type of industry you’re in! Certain events require unique emojis, and you’re more than welcome to use them when necessary. Try using the fireworks ????emoji during New Year’s Eve, the ghost ????emoji during Halloween, or the cake ????emoji during your business’ birthday special events.
Be witty with your emojis
Emojis are meant to increase engagement metrics through visual cues, and that means that you need to be innovative in using emojis that are both relevant and entertaining to the audience. Some ideas that are witty use of emojis can be:
- Use emojis to make posts funnier and tickle your audience’s funny bone
- Try using a combination of different emojis and make your audience guess what you’re trying to say, like this post from Pixar:
Great accompanying caption is your best friend
Emojis can speak a thousand words, but there’s nothing better than an emoji (or emojis) with a post caption that perfectly encapsulates your brand and your kind of humor—like this post from NASA—who made the perfect use of moon phase emojis and the phenomena of moons going through ‘phases.’
With great caption comes great responsibility, which means that your captions should be fun, exciting, and relevant without being rude or offensive to a race or demographic.
There are more than 3,600 emojis available, and despite this vast catalog, it’s hard to claim or use an emoji exclusively for your brand among the free available ones. A pizza company would most likely use the same pizza emojis, and fresh produce businesses would probably use the same set of fruit and vegetable emojis.
One way to make your emojis unique to you is by using X’s hash flags. And while they certainly will make you stand out among the rest, these hash flags are rumored to cost $1 million and higher per hash flag—which is certainly not ideal for most businesses.
Why not try mixing and matching the perfect set of emojis to represent your brand? When you become consistent with its use on your platform, those specific sets of emojis will eventually become a set that’s unique to you and your brand.
Know your audience
The kind of emojis that you are required to use is highly dependent on your brand and the audience that typically engages with your account.
If you are a brand with a younger following, the use of emojis like ????????????????????may be okay to use, depending on the context of your content. However, if your audience is professionals, you may want to avoid using those emojis and use those like ✒️???????????? instead.
How not to fail on your emoji marketing strategies
Here are some things to remember to avoid having emoji marketing backfire on you:
Avoid emojis that can be misinterpreted
While emojis can be fun and exciting, some emojis can be easily misinterpreted without the use of proper context, so it’s best to avoid using them. Some of them are as follows:
- Emojis that represent violence: ????????????
- Passive-agressive emojis: ????????????
- Emojis that are rude and offensive: ????????????????
While emojis are generally harmless, using these emojis when the posts are addressed to your audience may result in an unfavorable image of your brand and affect your social media reputation.
Avoid overusing emojis
One important rule in using emojis in social media: avoid overusing them.
While it may look fine for ordinary people, people using assistive devices may find it infuriating and difficult to interpret texts with multiple similar emojis, according to the Bureau of Internet Accessibility.
Gerald Lombardo, CEO at cauZmik, says, “Emojis should support your text and get your point across, not confuse your audience.”
Make sure the emojis you use are viewed the same on different devices
One major problem in using emojis is how some of them are viewed and presented differently depending on the device used (i.e., Android or Apple). Some emojis come across as funny on Apple devices, but the same emojis come across as rude when viewed from Android devices.
While this cannot be entirely avoided, you should be aware of which emojis look different from each device and be cautious about the use of these emojis to prevent misunderstanding.
Final thoughts on Emoji Marketing
Emoji marketing is a brand of marketing that has existed together with technological advancements. This kind of marketing has its own share of ups and downs—from increased audience engagement and relatability to the danger of misinterpretation.
The best way to approach emoji marketing is to treat it as a supplement to your content and engagement efforts, not a replacement for it. Emojis are supposed to enhance your audience’s viewing and reading experience, so it’s best to use emojis wisely and carefully as you would on your written content.