Emojis and marketing

Guest post by Kirsty T., work experience student from St Mary’s School, Cambridge

Emojis made their debut appearance in to the digital world in Japan in 1999, on some of the very first mobile platforms. The Telegraph went as far as to describe emojis as being “the fastest growing form of language in history”. The concept behind these icons is to be able to convey a message or an emotion through symbols, without having to use words. Emojis are universal, so as long as you have the appropriate device, anyone can understand them. As a result of this rapid change in communication, an opportunity has arisen for marketing experts to consider the use of emojis in marketing. Brands such as McDonalds, Ikea and Chevrolet are some of the first to lead the way by using emojis as a basis for branding their products or within advertising campaigns. Among the apparent triumph of these icons within the world of marketing, there are also many critics who appear to be sceptical about their effectiveness.

The first complication is that the meaning of an advert that uses emojis could be ambiguous if recipients are not using a suitable device that allows the recipient to view the emoji as intended. In some cases, if viewers cannot view the message as intended, the advert might not have the desired effect on a proportion of the target market. This could lead to the brand being seen as being too exclusive, if only smartphone or tablet users can access the content, which can have a negative effect on the product’s image. The digital era is relatively new and, for many who have not grown up with technology as a part of daily life, the use of emojis in marketing campaigns may prove to be too challenging to decipher.

On the contrary, there do seem to be numerous reasons as to why the use of emojis within marketing has been so successful in raising the status of a brand or product. First, emojis have proven themselves as a useful tool in increasing one’s popularity on social media; positive emojis are perceived as fun and upbeat. In a recent study Simo Tchokni of the University of Cambridge said “there is a strong link between emoticon use and social power”. The positive link associated with emojis can be used within a marketing strategy to make products appear upbeat and accessible. The fact that these icons are so universally understood, across linguistic and cultural demographics, means that campaigns will no longer have to be tailored to suit different audiences, widening marketers’ target markets and the potential number of consumers they are able to access through one campaign. It is also worth noting that emojis represent innovative and forward thinking, as they work in tandem with the ever expanding digital era. Therefore, when linked with marketing campaigns, the products also appear to be equally advanced and modern, which in turn develops their reputation.

It is of course reasonable to suggest that there are some contexts in which it might seem inappropriate to use emojis, in particular when discussing topics of an important or sensitive nature that need to be communicated conscientiously. But there are also many circumstances within marketing when it is relevant to use emojis to convey a message. The most important point when using emojis in marketing, as is the case with all marketing activity, is to note who your target audience is and whether the message will be interpreted in a positive way that will deliver success for your client.


Picture this

The rise of image-led communication across the business spectrum, from basic infographics to the full-blown illustrative interpretation of strategies, continues to gain momentum.   In our own business the change is evidenced by many ways; our business plan, which in days gone by would have populated many pages of a decent sized paperback, has now been translated into a one page visual which is simple to grasp, memorable and, therefore, easy to translate into action for every single member of our team.

There is a fascinating article in BA’s Business Life this month which illustrates just how far we have come in understanding the power and many uses of imagery in the business world.  The saying ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ has been used for generations in the marketing industry but traditionally (for those of us old enough to remember) the saying’s meaning referred to the use of photography to illustrate text – it was assumed that without the words the audience couldn’t possibly be expected to understand what the communication was about. 

Now it seems we have finally turned this thinking on its head and today the picture is increasingly used to communicate the message, replacing most, if not all of the words.  So, if the old saying is still true, and if each 1,000 word article can be replaced by just one picture, communication will continue to become infinitely faster and more streamlined.  Unfortunately for those people whose brains aren’t so able to process images, this may prove challenging but, if we’re to believe the words of experts cited in the BA article, these people are few and far between.

The concept of graphic visualisation is nothing new of course.  Anyone who has seen Ken Robinson’s animated thinking on education will know how powerful live, illustrative interpretation can be when executed well.  The ability to communicate a thousand words through just one image takes the type of skills that not many people possess.  But, from experience, we know that utilising the simplest of pictures to capture and bring elements of a concept together, can certainly help with interpretation of the message.  And, with so many digital tools available, many of which are free, there is really no excuse for any organisation not attempting to use the power of images. 

The simple graphic used in this blog about ‘Conscious Business’ captures beautifully what the author sees as the four essential elements of the concept.  Even if the reader hasn’t the time or the interest to read all of the blog’s text, they will be able to grasp the basics of what the author wants to convey from this simple graphic – job done.

Graphic visualisation has also become an increasingly popular tool for internal communications specialists, especially those responsible for driving internal change.  An image that can map an organisation’s structure, work flow, products, services, customers (internal and external), can be very effective for enhancing engagement and stimulating involvement and ownership.  Channel 4’s corporate workflow graphic is a colourful example.    

The utilisation of graphic facilitation in the work place is a relatively new concept and simply brilliant.  For everything from strategic development to team building, the technique takes meeting facilitation to a completely new level and allows teams to develop something completely unique and memorable that has the ability to help break down barriers. Forget the pack of post-its, coloured pens and flip chart, spending a little extra money on an illustrator to capture the nuances and emotions of a workshop can be worth every penny.

But, with all the excitement about graphics, there is still a significant place for words – the beauty and value of well-chosen words shouldn’t be dismissed.  Like artistic masterpieces themselves, they wear the test of time.  Here are some of the great opening lines from literature as chosen by the Daily Telegraph: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all doing direct the other way”.  We challenge you to try putting all of the depth of emotion and meaning in these words into a picture! 

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