Is emoji marketing OK?

Tell the truth. Do you use emojis at work? Most of you should have answered

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Seventy-six percent of American workers admit to using emojis in professional communication, according to a research study by mobile messaging company Cotap. Just about everyone (92 percent) said they use emojis in personal communication.

Wow. The emoji has come a long way. Cue that Talking Heads lyric: “Well. How did I get here?”

A brief history

The story goes like this. In 1963, the State Life Assurance Co. of Massachusetts and Ohio’s Guarantee Mutual Co. merged, creating anxiety among employees.

Management hired advertising expert Harvey Ball to improve company morale. He doodled a smiling yellow face as part of the company’s “Friendship Campaign” that included 100 smiley face pins for employees. Ball created one of the most iconic images of all time in just 10 minutes.

Unfortunately, he didn’t trademark it and only made $45.

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The smiley face became a hipster symbol in the 1960s and 1970s before the first digital incarnation at Carnegie Mellon University in 1982. Professor Scott Fahlman typed

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on a university bulletin board to distinguish serious posts from jokes.

Fifteen years later, a designer for a Japanese telecom carrier devised a character set to bring emotional clarity to text messages. But the movement didn’t hit full force until Apple introduced the iPhone to Japan in 2008 and users demanded a way to use emoji.

Unicode, the computer industry’s standard for characters, recognized emoji and the characters became featured on devices throughout the world.

Spreading to corporate America

Emojis are showing up more in personal and professional communication and company marketing campaigns.

You can order a pizza from Domino’s by tweeting a

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Taco Bell campaigns feature taco emojis that customers can blend with other emoji. Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Disney paid Twitter more than $1 million for emoji-related ad campaigns tied to the Super Bowl.

IHOP redesigned its logo in the style of an emoji.

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Weighing the pluses, minuses

Like any communication medium, emojis have drawbacks, limitations and unclear intentions.

Does

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mean crying or sweating? Ambiguity. Is

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a grimace or a smile? Confusion. Is

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a yawn or a complaint?

But Emojis work and aren’t going away any time soon. Here are six reasons why:

  1. Visual power: Emojis are visually memorable.
  2. Simplicity: They are quick and easy to use.
  3. Emotional impact: Emojis convey emotion more than “text only” messages.
  4. Broad and targeted reach: Just about everyone uses them, particularly the coveted millennial target market.
  5. Kinder negativity: Emojis soften criticism.
  6. Science: Scientists discovered that when we look at a smiley face online, the same parts of the brain are activated as if we looked at a real human face.

That being said, a face-to-face conversation is still the ideal communication approach. Stringing together a couple of coherent sentences in an email isn’t so bad either.

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Dave Mastovich is the President & CEO of MASSolutions Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing firm that creates bold messaging solutions to inspire, engage and sell.
Dave is the author of “Get Where You Want to Go.” His new podcast “No BS Marketing” features business leaders as guests offering no nonsense tips and solutions.