Never underestimate the power of emoji marketing

As this year is almost coming to an end, the internet hit me with yet another interesting digital-related news – Oxford Dictionaries’ ‘Word of the Year’ has been given to a, wait for it… emoji. More precisely, half-laughing half-crying emoji.

Should we be surprised, thrilled or upset about their announcement? Depending on whom you are – a grammar nerd or Twitter addict – your reaction may vary.

Why is it so important that it was even announced the Word of the Year? (Is it even a word?)

Since emoji made its debut in the 1990s in Japan, it has steadily gained popularity. Today, the youth love emoji. Especially when it comes to communication amongst Generation Z, to whom large brands are shifting their marketing attention, emoji seems highly relevant.

Almost assuredly, it is the world’s first global language, according to The Drum (just look at this real-time emoji tracker on Twitter to see the scale).

Having spent my youth in Japan, I remember the first time I encountered with an early version of emoji called kaomoji, which looked something like this: (*・ω・)ノ (*translation: Hello.) Or, this fella might be more familiar if you had grown in Europe, 🙂

But time has changed.

Big brands capitalising on emoji craze

Today there are approximately 2 billion mobile users worldwide, rendering emoji a key communication tool. (Emojis are even regarded as a legit evidence in court cases!)

What’s really fascinating about emoji is how emotions (subtle, or some even complex) are encapsulated in tiny, colourful icons. And you know the catch, emotion sells.
The recent brands’ use of emoji in marketing is the best example illustrating the scale of popularity. 2015 alone saw several notable brands capitalising on the emoji power.

The sign of emoji overloads?

From Star Wars to IKEA, many brands regardless of the industry seem to have fallen in love with emoji marketing.

The most famous symptom includes ‘We-want-my-own-emoji-sets!’ fever. IKEA has released its own emoticon app early this year, featuring mostly furniture-related emojis.

Durex also wants to do emoji, in support to promote safe sex. In their cheeky video, they launched #CondomEmoji in the face of the World’s AIDS Day, appealing to the Unicode Consortium (the official peeps who make emoji)  to bring the condom emoji to life.


(“Seriously, give us a break.” said someone.)

Simple and impactful emoji marketing cases

It’s not that easy for brands to petition for a new set of emoji to persuade the people at the Unicode Consortium via website. And secondly as a consumer, it does, to some extent, have some sort of a desperate and forcible tone.

Personally, I am more impressed – both as a consumer and a marketer – to see those brands who have smartly and playfully utilised the existing emoji resource to make an impact.  


For example, Coca-Cola in Puerto Rico was probably the one of the first brands to have included happy emojis in their URLs.

Domino pizza

An even more excellent piece of work was done by Domino Pizza in the US. They introduced the tweet ordering, allowing pizza lovers to order by texting  #easyorder or the same emoji to Domino. How simple and exciting is that!


Another of our favourite by the master of B2B marketing, General Electric – ‘Emoji science’. They’ve done it again. Generating a lot of excitement for both geeks and non-geeks, featuring Bill Nye and interactive ‘emoji’ table of experiments.   


Then there was WWF’s #EndangeredEmoji campaign, leveraging on 17 animal emojis representing the same endangered species in the wake of Endangered Species Day in May this year. People were asked to donate by tweeting any of the emojis (read more here). Clever!


But not every brand is getting it right. MacDonalds’ ‘vandalised’ emoji-overload billboard might be still fresh in your memory. 

Emoji has come a long way. And it will most likely to evolve as we use more often.

But hey, who knows, the next generation of content marketers might be writing blog posts using emoji alone.


(That was a wink, by the way.)

What do you think?

Appnova is a digital agency specialising in web design, UX, eCommerce, branding, digital marketing and social media.

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