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Can you speak emoji? Five tips on how brands can use them

Sparks & Honey’s Alison Bracegirdle explores the growing commercial use of emojis.

King Tut would be very upset. Hieroglyphics have been surpassed in adoption rate and speed by emojis (cue mummies turning in their tombs). But as they cross over into mass media adoption, what will emojis mean to us?

We’ve seen an explosion of commercial emoji use in the last three months, from ordering Domino’s with a pizza emoji to custom brand emojis from Burger King, Mentos and Ikea. The Disc Cactus company even created an emoji keyboard. What started as an emotional language for friends is fast becoming a tool for brands to speak more emotionally.

When Instagram released an algorithm allowing us to compare emoji use with text, we discovered very few people use emojis as their creators intended. What some called a ‘swoopy star’ was actually a ‘dizzy star’, while ‘face snorting angrily’ was actually ‘face with look of triumph’.

Ambiguity will continue to be part of their acceptance as they form new meanings and contexts. We’ve not only found multiple meanings for each emoji, but multiple meanings of the same emoji among people from different ethnic backgrounds and gender within the same demographic and geographic location. We’re personalising our pictures.

However, the younger you go the more accepting people are of emoji ambiguity. A TalkTalk survey shows 72 per cent of 18 to 25-year-olds find it easier to convey feelings in emoji than in text.

So how do you speak emoji?

1. Be clear. When in doubt, or when your brand needs clarity, be simple. When Domino’s allowed people to order pizza with an emoji, everyone knew what to do. Let’s see what happens with the new taco emoji (ahem, Taco Bell and Chipotle).

2. Be inventive. If emojis help us tell stories, can they become passwords? Intelligent Environments has created a security system that uses emojis, which apparently helps you better remember your pin. Beer. Dancing girl. Taco. Moon. Logged in!

3. Be creative. When language is useful beyond its intent, new purposes flourish. Bris, a Swedish non-profit for children’s rights, has created ‘abused emoji’ for children to say in pictures what is too hard to say aloud.

4. Be personal. Up for some lighthearted celebrity fun? Your brand can liken an influencer to emojis. Taylor Swift has an emoji to match almost all of her expressions. Or invite people to share their own interpretations.

5. Be open to many uses in many places. Emojis may be the fastest growing language, but they aren’t yet ready to stand alone. When a few friends started emoji-only social network Emojili, 60,000 users wished them well. But on 30 July they will pull the plug, citing lack of interest.

So, if you’re planning to use emojis commercially, remember to let people create their own emoji stories with your icon alphabet.

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