Welcome to the Emoji-conomy

To engage with millennial consumers, brands are learning to speak their language. Why a pictogram is sometimes worth a thousand tweets

Written by Murad Hemmadi

As Latin and Aramaic were to the ancients, emoticons—and their whimsical cousin emoji—have the power to unite as a universal language. Emoji symbols are regulated by a non-profit consortium that ensures standardized computer text, while emoticons are less formal pictograms expressing emotion that dominate social media, text messaging and, increasingly, print.

Six billion emoticons are now sent by text each day and a recent report by ad agency Deep Focus found four of every ten young people would rather communicate by pictures than words.

As millennials drift towards pictographic speech, brands are chasing them. Here, a recent review of attempts to speak millennial.

Existing Emojis

1. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
When: March 2014
Symbols: Heart
The Campaign: The animal rights group asked users to text a heart to them to receive more information about abuses in the fashion industry.
Success: The number of texts received are unknown, but one of the involved marketing agencies boasted of coverage in 14 different media outlets.
2. Miracle-Gro
When: March 2015
Symbols: All of the 12 “spring emojis,” including eggplants, sunflowers, cosmos, tomatoes and tulips
The Campaign: Every time a spring emoji was used on Twitter during the first day of spring, Miracle-Gro added the symbol to its digital garden.
Success: 143,596 emojis were added to the garden in one day—a small sprouting considering 350,000 tweets are sent each minute.
3. Domino’s Pizza
When: May 2015
Symbols: Pizza
The Campaign: Users registered their address and favourite order with the pizza company, and then were able to order a pie simply by tweeting the pizza symbol to Domino’s Twitter account.
Success: The emoji-based ordering was dismissed as a marketing stunt, although the company earned plaudits for understanding millennials for investing in technology that let people order by text and through their smart TVs, watches and cars.

New Symbols

4. Ballantine’s Blended Scotch
When: August 2014
Symbols: Whisky glass
The Campaign: Complaining there are 13 moon emojis, three cable car emojis, and emojis for beer mugs and wine, “yet there is no emoji for whisky,” the scotch brand attempted to rally its drinkers to support a new symbol.
Success: Only 19,697 people supported the campaign by posting #whiskyemoji on Facebook or Twitter in the past 15 months and the demand has gone unheard by regulators.
5. Taco Bell
When: January 2015
Symbols: Taco
The Campaign: The Mexican food chain launched a petition calling on the Unicode Consortium, the non-profit that governs standards for written computer text, to add a taco emoji.
Success: The petition received 32,802 signatures within three months; in June, the consortium announced its approval of the tasty symbol.
6. Coke
When: September 2015
Symbols: Clinking cola bottles
The Campaign: Twitter announced it will add an emoji of clinking cola bottles each time a user tweets #shareacoke.
Success: While it’s a clever extension of an ongoing marketing campaign for Coke, this is really a big deal for Twitter. The blogging service said it would offer specialized icons only to companies that commit a certain chunk of their ad budget to the company.

Whole New Languages

7. Burger King
When: March 2015
Symbols: 29 variations on its chicken fries’ box (e.g., chicken fries’ box dressed as the Easter Bunny), along with one of the company’s logo
The Campaign: To announce the return of its fry-shaped chicken strips after a nine-year drought, the fast food chain unleashed a full emoji keyboard on the world.
Success: Same-store sales increased 3.6% because of the chicken fries, though it’s unclear what impact the emojis had.
8. Ikea
When: February 2015
Symbols: 25 home-improvement-themed icons, including an Allen key, a step stool and Swedish meatballs
The Campaign: Claiming women and men simply need better icons to understand one another (and perhaps tacitly admitting that their products might cause some of the friction), the furniture chain debuted the symbols to “bridge the gap.”
Success: The video announcing the new emoji keyboard has received nearly 600,000 views since its launch, but the app containing the new emojis received atrocious reviews.
9. Saturday Night Live
When: February 2015
Symbols: 60 people (e.g., Coneheads), things (e.g., Land Shark) and phrases (e.g., “Suck it, Trebek”) from the long-running sketch show
The Campaign: NBC released the emoji keyboard as a bonus feature in an app dedicated to SNL’s 40th anniversary.
Success: While download numbers are unavailable, the website Hello Giggles lauded the selection, asking, “How could we live without a ‘Dick in a Box’ emoji?”

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