The condom brand Durex has used World AIDS Day as a marketing hook for years, but for the most recent edition it tried something different: a condom emoji.
Durex said there was no icon that communicated a desire for safe sex, so it started a campaign to provide one on smartphone keyboards. The consortium that sets standards for characters and emojis has yet to approve it, but the mere fact that Durex started the campaign prompted 210 million mentions on Twitter and, by Durex’s estimates, drew 2.6 billion media impressions worldwide.
Such is the power of emojis. And more companies are taking notice.
“There’s a lot of brand demand for emojis,” said Ross Hoffman, senior director of global brand strategy at Twitter, which recently started offering custom emojis for companies to use in advertising. That is because some 92 percent of the online population now uses emojis, according to a study by Emogi, a start-up that uses them to let people indicate how they feel about particular ads. Swyft Media, which creates alternate phone keyboards featuring multiple emojis, says people send six billion of them a day.
Brands like emojis for several other reasons. For one, they reach ad-averse millennials, sailing past ad-blocking software. They are visual, which makes them a natural fit for popular messaging apps such as Snapchat and Instagram and also appeals to international audiences. And because they are meant to be shared, the brand images are distributed widely, free.
“All of a sudden, the brand is in this very personal conversation between friends and family,” said Evan Wray, the chief executive of Swyft Media.
Now, emojis are everywhere in marketing. When the Beatles catalog was made available on nine music streaming services in December, Spotify provided an emoji of the band’s “Abbey Road” cover to people who used the hashtag #BeatlesSpotify on Twitter. That helped set Spotify apart; according to Twitter, its hashtag was mentioned in four times as many Twitter posts as the straightforward #Beatles hashtag.
Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Starbucks, Disney and more than a dozen other companies have each paid Twitter more than $1 million for designs combined with various kinds of ads. During the Super Bowl, people who used the hashtag #PepsiHalftime got a reply that included a soda can emoji with musical notes floating out from it. For the Feb. 21 introduction of its new smartphone, Samsung rolled out on Twitter a custom emoji featuring its virtual-reality headset, along with several kinds of ads.
For many companies, one emoji is not enough. Ahead of its annual Kitten Bowl animal adoption show before the Super Bowl, the Hallmark Channel offered an alternate phone keyboard developed by the mobile marketing company Snaps that featured “cat-lete” emojis such as “Puma Esiason.”
Emojis are also spreading further afield in marketing. 20th Century Fox used them on a Los Angeles billboard to promote the movie “Deadpool.” IHOP Restaurants redesigned its logo in the style of emojis.
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Some companies have tried a little too hard to be hip. Last year, Chevrolet sent out a news release written entirely in emojis, perplexing many people. When Goldman Sachs used emojis to tweet news of its 2015 report about millennials on Twitter, the ploy backfired. One person commented on Twitter: “@GoldmanSachs now explain credit default swaps in emoji pls.” In Bristol, England, emoji-festooned McDonald’s billboards were defaced with a vomit emoji.
The bungles haven’t slowed down brands’ embrace of emojis. That is mostly because they convey emotion, the precious currency of marketers.
Some companies are even starting to quantify those emotions to provide a more nuanced view of ad effectiveness than clicks or impressions. Emogi’s “emotion engine” analyzes data on how people use emojis to reveal their sentiments about ads. Marketers can use that data to tweak campaigns or target promising audience segments, said Travis Montaque, the chief executive of Emogi.
Not all companies can count on their branded emojis catching on. How many people really want to send (or worse, receive) the diaper brand Luvs’ “Momojis” for diapers and baby poop? That is why some brands have attached themselves to more universal symbols.
Taco Bell last year mounted a campaign for a generic taco emoji. A few months after the emoji became official last July, the company created a “taco emoji engine” that allows people to tweet the taco, along with another emoji. An automated program sends back one of 700 mash-ups of the two. Fans have used the engine 756,000 times since November.
“That’s how Taco Bell could own it,” said Winston Binch, chief digital officer at Deutsch, the lead agency on the campaign. “It’s not just a one-off ad, it’s an ongoing connection with a brand.”
Other companies have devised more direct ways to profit from standard emojis. Domino’s Pizza lets people order a pie by tweeting a pizza slice emoji. It’s not that easy, since customers first must set up an online ordering account, and the company follows up with a Twitter direct message to confirm the order. Still, for its “business-moving” idea, the novel transaction system won the ad industry’s top award for breakthrough marketing at last summer’s Cannes Lions advertising conference.
Of course, this could all be a fad. But many marketers think emojis are here to stay. Mark DiMassimo, the chief executive and chief creative officer of the agency DiMassimo Goldstein, said that emojis were likely to spread from messaging to social media and beyond.
He cited Facebook’s addition on Feb. 24 of five new emojis to its thumbs-up “like” symbol. Chevrolet promptly ran an ad for the 2016 Malibu suggesting that people tap the new “love” emoji on Facebook.
“The best uses of emojis haven’t been done yet,” Mr. DiMassimo said.
Robert D. Hof, The New York Times. March 6, 2016
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