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Are emoji the new brand language?

Posted: October 30, 2015

Recently the Pope visited the United States (US).

Are emoji the new brand language?


Appeared in: The RedZone Magazine October 2015
By: Dannette Beitenbrach

Recently the Pope visited the United States (US). In honour of his visit, Twitter developed four different emoji, one for every city the Pope was visiting in the US. Depending on the hashtag used, a different emoji would appear.

Originally from Japan, Emoji were used in Japanese electronic messages and on websites. Ideograms or smileys, emoji means picture (e) plus character (moji). They were used by Japanese mobile operators but since 2010 they have spread outside of Japan and are built and standardised into most mobile handsets across the world.

After they were included in Apple’s iPhone, and proved popular, Android and other mobile operating systems followed. Included in the line-up are animals, various objects, people’s expressions, even weather.

Some brands have started to use emoji to reach the Generation Z, a market that has grown up in a world of mobile phones and the internet. In the US Bud Light’s American flag emoji - comprising fireworks, flag and beer mug - had over 150 000 retweets. Burger King is another brand that has created its own emoji. In preparation for their latest release, Star Wars also has its own emoji.

Jeremy Sampson, Founder/Adviser, InterbrandSampsonDeVilliers, says while emoji have certainly grabbed our attention, especially appealing to the younger generation, he is not convinced they are a new brand language. “I myself have not seen any linkage to brands.”

He does not deny that it has taken off and spread like wildfire. “In terms of messaging and fun it is used often. However I think this would only appeal to certain ages and cultures. Will it replace how we communicate with people? I do not think so and I suspect it is still in its infancy.”

Terri-Leigh Blomeyer, Managing Director and Simone Rossum, Creative Director, Shift Joe Public, agree that emoji are definitely influencing the way we communicate, offering us a smarter and faster way to express our real emotions with the avoidance of being misunderstood especially in email and text. However both express the same reservation as Sampson when it comes to the question of are emoji the new brand language?

“While emoji’s may be an effective tool for a handful of brands, it certainly should not be considered as the very essence of the language,” says Blomeyer.

“Since the birth of emoji they have been growing and evolutionising, but for them to work in any form of communication - be it social / online or more traditional communications – they will need to develop further in consistency of meaning, says Rossum.

Emoji’s talk to a very niche Millennials audience, and even these Millennials are debating their definitions, never mind the already in their early 20s and up age groups, they add. “Getting lost in translation while trying to be trendy could be a costly and very possibly a dangerous path to travel,” they say So how could emoji fit into the world of business and brand now and in the future? Firstly brands need to remind themselves of who they are, what they stand for and who they target. It is this essence that will determine how they speak to consumers says Blomeyer. “Brands need to remain authentic and real. If the brand calls for it, then use it, but this cannot be said for all brands. Brands who are able to harness the world’s current state of “onlineness” and use the medium in such a way that it communicates successfully with the consumer, will capture the market.” However, brands which jump into this trend without consideration of their essence will run the risk of egg on face as does a brand that tries to be something it is not. This only creates mistrust, and most often with mistrust comes switch. Brands really need to be cautious of not becoming too abstract, or conceptual in relaying their message and more importantly not to latch onto any new trend because they want to be “seen” as being relevant to the market, and in this case quite a niche one warns Rossum. “In fact the affect can be quite the opposite, it’s is far more important to be true to the brand, that way your audience remains captive.” This said, both agree that emoji’s are here and brands should use them to their advantage. “It’s a great way for brands to gage and understand consumers’ experiences and underlying emotional connection associated with the experience. So by following the language connected to the responses of the brand experience, brands may be in a better position to get a richer and deeper understanding of consumers.”