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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