A Year in Emoji Marketing: How 16 Brands Used Emojis

Brands have increas­ingly embraced emo­jis to enhance their mar­ket­ing efforts.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

It is per­haps safe to say emo­jis are hav­ing their cul­tural moment: Not only did the March 30 issue of the New Yorker fea­ture Hillary Clin­ton emo­jis on the cover, Apple is report­edly going to release new, more diverse emo­jis in its iOS 8.3 update, art and tech­nol­ogy stu­dio Disk Cac­tus has a Kick­starter cam­paign for an emoji key­board cover and retail cloth­ing com­pany Betabrand is sell­ing shirts, dresses, and shoes fes­tooned with the poo emoji. And mar­keters have cer­tainly taken note, giv­ing emo­jis their branded moment as well.

After a year or so with a hand­ful of exam­ples from a few pio­neer­ing brands like JCPen­ney, Bud Light, AT&T and GE, who were among the first to dip their toes into the emoji waters, we’re now see­ing branded efforts pos­i­tively snow­ball. Let’s look back at how 16 brands have used emo­jis.

The Timeline

March 2014: PETA

Almost exactly a year ago, ani­mal rights orga­ni­za­tion PETA released a video, Cru­elty Beyond Words, which incor­po­rated emo­jis and asked con­sumers to text a heart emoji to help pre­vent ani­mal cru­elty.

July 2014: Bud Light, JCPenney

Bud Light Emoji Tweet For Inde­pen­dence Day 2014, Bud Light posted an Amer­i­can flag emoji tweet, fea­tur­ing fire­works, flags and beer. To date, the tweet has more than 152,000 retweets and more than 113,000 favorites.

For back to school 2014, retailer JCPen­ney fol­lowed with a dig­i­tal expe­ri­ence, Express Your­selfie, in which it invited cus­tomers to visit its back to school hub to cre­ate per­son­al­ized emo­jis that resem­bled them­selves. The brand enabled users to cus­tomize their emo­jis with acces­sories and hair­styles and to post their emo­jis alongside self­ies to share with friends as well as in the brand’s online gallery. Each user was also able to view shop­ping sug­ges­tions based on their per­sonal style, the brand said in a release.

October 2014: The White House

Then, in Octo­ber, the White House released an info­graphic about mil­len­ni­als – “where they are, where they’re going, and what Pres­i­dent Obama is doing to ensure their suc­cess” – that included emo­jis.

November 2014: Taco Bell

For its part, Taco Bell has sold taco emoji t-shirts to pro­mote its cam­paign for a taco emoji, in which it actu­ally sub­mit­ted a Change.org peti­tion. In the peti­tion, Taco Bell notes Uni­code Con­sor­tium, a non­profit that reg­u­lates the cod­ing stan­dards for writ­ten com­puter text that includes emo­jis, announced it had accepted 37 new emoji char­ac­ters – includ­ing a taco emoji — as can­di­dates for Uni­code 8.0, which is sched­uled for mid-2015.

We need your help con­vinc­ing them THE TACO EMOJI NEEDS TO HAPPEN,” Taco Bell writes. “Why do pizza and ham­burger lovers get an emoji but taco lovers don’t? Here’s a bet­ter ques­tion: why do we need four dif­fer­ent types of mail­boxes? Or 25 dif­fer­ent types of clocks? Or a VCR tape and floppy disk emoji? No one even uses those things any­more.”

As of this writ­ing, the peti­tion has more than 30,000 sig­na­tures.

December 2014: GE, AT&T

GE Emoji Science

In early Decem­ber, GE cre­ated a peri­odic table of the ele­ments with emo­jis in its Emoji Sci­ence effort.

For the three-day acti­va­tion, the brand asked fans to join it on Snapchat and send in an emoji. In exchange, the brand sent back a sci­ence exper­i­ment inspired by the emoji key­board, which Syd­ney Lestrud, man­ager of global mar­ket­ing at GE, said was “our way of respond­ing with sci­ence in a really fun and hope­fully relat­able way.”

As a result, the brand turned the peri­odic table of the ele­ments into the afore­men­tioned emoji table of exper­i­ments by replac­ing each ele­ment with an emoji.

That was part of our con­tent we put out there to let peo­ple know…there’s sci­ence in every­thing, even the emoji,” Lestrud said.

As a result, the brand saw a lot of con­sumers not only send­ing emo­jis, but talk­ing on other plat­forms, Lestrud said. That includes edu­ca­tors who, she said, “were respond­ing very pos­i­tively to what we were doing – mak­ing sci­ence fun, acces­si­ble and relat­able through a lan­guage our younger audi­ence is using.”

In addi­tion, the brand will expand the cam­paign on the Emoji Sci­ence web­site and will “revamp it to be a bit more of a dynamic expe­ri­ence for our fans,” Lestrud said.

There’s a com­mon theme at GE that we think about in all of our sto­ry­telling, which is try­ing to help make sci­ence and inno­va­tion more acces­si­ble,” Lestrud said. “This cam­paign in par­tic­u­lar was sort of lean­ing in to two cul­tural zeit­geist phe­nom­ena that we’ve been see­ing: the growth of Snapchat has been phe­nom­e­nal and see­ing it from the early days to what it has become, as well as emoji.”

In addi­tion, Lestrud said it was really about think­ing about how the brand’s younger tar­get audi­ence is using Snapchat and how GE can “launch onto that plat­form in a way that feels rel­e­vant, inter­est­ing and relat­able.”

That younger demo­graphic is an impor­tant one for GE as it includes “the future busi­ness deci­sion mak­ers or investors or tal­ent that might want to work at GE some­day,” she said.

Emo­jis are a mech­a­nism that are already in our target’s ver­nac­u­lar. It’s how they com­mu­ni­cate with one another,” Lestrud said. “GE is really lean­ing in to that behav­ior to talk about sci­ence and research…and it was really where we felt like we could break through in terms of talk­ing about what we’re doing. Again, we’re really just using the lan­guage that’s already out there and using the lan­guage that’s already hap­pen­ing between our audi­ence to con­nect with them in a new way…and talk­ing about sci­ence so we’re able to hope­fully inspire and excite them to want to learn more about who GE is.”

Aside from GE’s effort, for the hol­i­days, AT&T worked with BBDO to release Emoji Car­ols, in which it recorded six clas­sic hol­i­day songs and ani­mated them with emo­jis to cre­ate “fun and share­able music videos,” as well as a mobile-first site where users could cre­ate their own so-called Emo­jiMe to star in videos. Per BBDO, there were 123,391 unique vis­i­tors to the site and more than 14,000 videos cre­ated.

January 2015: ‘Broad City’

Broad City Emoji Keyboard

Prior to the debut of the sec­ond sea­son of the Com­edy Cen­tral series “Broad City“, the net­work teamed up with devel­oper Snaps to cre­ate a “Broad City” key­board with char­ac­ters and themes from the show.

Said Com­edy Cen­tral: “’The Broad City’ key­board, designed for iOS 8 and Android, has you bb’s cov­ered with emo­jis, stick­ers, and GIFs from all of our fav’ Broad City moments. CHYEAH!”

Com­edy Cen­tral wanted to enhance con­nec­tions between fans and the show and to cre­ate engage­ment in “unex­pected places,” accord­ing to Snaps, adding that it launched the “Broad City” branded emoji key­board so fans “could share moments from the show as part of their con­ver­sa­tions.”

In addi­tion, Snaps notes that in eight weeks, the key­board resulted in more than 55,000 installs with no paid pro­mo­tion. It also resulted in 1 mil­lion images sent, 3.2 mil­lion key­board uses and was a trend­ing search in the App Store for three days, accord­ing to Snaps.

The app has between 1,000 and 5,000 down­loads on Google Play.

February 2015: Mentos, IKEA, Coca-Cola, NBC Entertainment

Mentos Ementicons

Mint brand Men­tos, long known for its catchy jin­gle, released its own so-called Emen­ti­cons, which it calls “a fresh new way to express your­self.”

Each face is itself on a Men­tos candy. Options include Awk­ward, Cute Crazed, FOMO and Bad Happy.

The brand also released a series of videos to get the word out about its emo­jis and explain each emo­tion.

In addi­tion, Ikea Nether­lands released a video announc­ing Ikea emoti­cons to “[improve] com­mu­ni­ca­tion at home.”

Ikea emoti­con options include fur­ni­ture, pets, and Swedish meat­balls.

Men and women have always found dif­fi­culty in com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In the home sit­u­a­tion mis­un­der­stand­ings occur most around clut­ter. And that is why Ikea intro­duces Emoti­cons: a com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool to ensure uni­ver­sal love and under­stand­ing in your home,” the video descrip­tion says. “All your hints, desires and ques­tions will be under­stood right away. Give it a try. Start spread­ing hap­pi­ness.”

As of this writ­ing, it has nearly 600,000 views.

Avail­able for iPhone and Android, the Ikea Emoti­cons app has between 10,000 and 50,000 down­loads on Google Play.

Coca-Cola Puerto Rico was also report­edly putting smi­ley face emo­jis in web addresses, which redi­rect to the brand’s Emoti­coke web­site.

Also, in cel­e­bra­tion of Sat­ur­day Night Live’s 40th anniver­sary, NBC Enter­tain­ment released its first SNL app, which includes a library of 5,500 clips, as well as a cus­tom SNL emoji key­board with 60 “clas­sic and cur­rent” SNL emo­jis, includ­ing Cone­head, Dick in a Box, and Land­shark.

NBC SNL Emoji Keyboard

Why not, right?” said Michael Scogin, vice pres­i­dent of late night at NBC Enter­tain­ment Dig­i­tal. “First of all, I think they’re super-fun, every­one loves them and is obvi­ously using them.”

Scogin said the brand started with a list of 250 pos­si­ble emo­jis based on iconic peo­ple, places and things from the show’s 40 sea­sons. He also notes NBC was inspired by the Sein­feld emoji, which was an inde­pen­dent effort, but the net­work then actu­ally sought out the Sein­feld emoji illus­tra­tor to work on the SNL project.

It’s pri­mar­ily a video-based app, but we wanted some­thing fun to allow peo­ple to use char­ac­ters from the show over the var­i­ous decades and be able to con­nect in a dif­fer­ent way,” Scogin said. “And for the app, it adds some­thing. We want to add new emo­jis. We’ve already had so many requests, like, ‘Where’s the Church Lady?’”

Scogin also said that releas­ing new emo­jis from time to time is a good way to keep view­ers return­ing to the app.

It’s fun, the show and the cre­ative and the char­ac­ters really lend them­selves to it and that’s really why we decided to do it,” Scogin said.

In addi­tion, he said he thinks the emo­jis will appeal to view­ers of all ages.

One thing we know about SNL – and [cre­ator and exec­u­tive pro­ducer] Lorne Michaels has spo­ken about it is that every­one has a golden era of the show, which is usu­ally tied to when they were in high school,”

Scogin said. “So I do think [the emo­jis work] for an older audi­ence, but a younger audi­ence as well.” Scogin said NBC wanted fans to be able to con­nect with the con­tent and share it and cre­ate com­mu­nity.

We didn’t want to do [emo­jis] just to be doing them. We wanted to have util­ity and to be able to use them in con­ver­sa­tions, like reg­u­lar emo­jis, so we chose char­ac­ters, things, objects, places and words from the show,” he said. “We really put a lot of thought into ‘How would I use this in a text mes­sage con­ver­sa­tion?’ We didn’t want to do it just to do it or because it’s novel right now.”

Now that the app is out, Scogin said he has received texts with SNL emo­jis in new ways that make sense in the flow of con­ver­sa­tion but that he hadn’t antic­i­pated.

It’s not just a novel idea,” he said. “We can use these iconic char­ac­ters and sketches and things to add value to the con­ver­sa­tions peo­ple are already hav­ing.”

March 2015: Miracle-Gro, Washington Post, Goldman Sachs, Burger King

Miracle-Gro Springmoji

In a blog post from 360i, the agency says its client Mir­a­cle-Gro wanted to cel­e­brate the first day of spring with a first-of-its-kind #Spring­moji gar­den, “designed to get con­sumers excited about plant­ing, regard­less of their cur­rent weather con­di­tions.”

The brand is ask­ing con­sumers to tweet one of the 12 spring gar­den emo­jis – which include tulips, roses, egg­plants, toma­toes, corn and sun­flow­ers – using the hash­tag #spring­moji, which then pop­u­lates a vir­tual emoji gar­den on the #Spring­moji web­site.

The effort will enable fans to help Mir­a­cle-Gro cre­ate the world’s biggest crowd­sourced com­mu­nity gar­den built entirely from plant and flower emo­jis,” accord­ing to 360i.

Nearly 1.6 mil­lion #Spring­moji had been planted as of this writ­ing, accord­ing to a run­ning coun­ter on the site.

For its part, the Wash­ing­ton Post cre­ated its own emo­jis for each team mas­cot in the NCAA men’s bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment.

Show your March Mad­ness spirit with these mas­cot emoji. Find your favorite team, save the emoji to your phone and text it to your friends, the brand says. “Because nobody uses their words any­more.”

In addi­tion, the Wash­ing­ton Post says it used the NCAA bracket to pair off the emoji into matchups and is ask­ing fans to vote for their favorites.

So just to be clear: The pair­ings are the same as in the actual NCAA tour­na­ment, but again, we only want you to advance teams based off emoji,” the Wash­ing­ton Post says. “Not like, skill level and junk like that. Deal with it, Ken­tucky.”

Even invest­ment bank­ing firm Gold­man Sachs trot­ted out emo­jis in a tweet meant to push its own info­graphic about Mil­len­ni­als. Goldman Sachs Emoji Tweet

And then there’s Burger King, which is cel­e­brat­ing the addi­tion of its Chicken Fries pro­duct as a per­ma­nent menu item with a Chicken Fries emoji key­board, which, the brand says, allows users to “say all of the things with none of the words” with var­i­ous chicken faces on chicken fries pack­ag­ing, as well as chicken-fries-themed stick­ers. Burger King Chicken Fries Emojis

While Chicken Fries may be time­less, it is 2015 and who uses words any­more?” the brand said in a release. “Emo­jis rule the roost today, espe­cially for Chicken Fries fanat­ics.”

Burger King’s Chicken Fries emoji key­board is avail­able from iTunes and Google Play and, per Google Play, it had between 100 and 500 down­loads as of this writ­ing.

Per­son­ally, I think that emo­jis are a huge missed oppor­tu­nity for brands. We’ve only seen a few companies…use them so far, but they’re an ideal method for com­mu­ni­cat­ing a mar­ket­ing mes­sage to young con­sumers,” said Tessa Wegert, com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor at inter­ac­tive mar­ket­ing firm Enlighten. “They’re visual, they’re mem­o­rable, and they have a ton of poten­tial to go viral. Brands should be explor­ing ways to make their own, but also work­ing them into their social media posts.”

So how exactly do brands do that?

Our next post, Emoji Mar­ket­ing: What Brands Need to Know, will exam­ine how the prac­tice of emoji mar­ket­ing is evolv­ing, what brands need to con­sider and what dan­gers – and poten­tial ROI – emo­jis present.

What do you think of emoji mar­ket­ing? Is it a relat­able way for brands to inter­act with con­sumers? Or is it flash in the pan?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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