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Emojis speak louder than words

14 Sep 2015  |  Rubbi Bhogal-Wood 
Emojis speak louder than words

Primesight's Rubbi Bhogal-Wood wonders how brand marketing can make the most of a very new and universal digital language.

Earlier this summer, billboards across the UK reminded us that life's frustrations could all be resolved with a trip to McDonald's. Nothing especially unique in the brand's messaging - except that it was comprised entirely of emojis.

Since Apple introduced emojis to its 2011 iOS, the world has fallen head over heels for the icons. With a feature film in the works, World Emoji Day gaining traction and press releases written entirely in emojis, the trend doesn't look to abate any time soon.

A recent study by TalkTalk Mobile and Bangor University found emojis to be the fastest growing language in the UK, with eight in ten adopting it as a regular means of communication and 72% of 18-25s finding it easier to express their emotions with emojis than words.

Like emoticons before them, emojis have been picked up seamlessly by young people, and brands have quickly cottoned on.

Emojis have been deemed so effective at reaching young people that even the White House got in on the action, starting with a report produced late last year on the status of the nation's millennial population which incorporated emojis in place of text.

Hilary Clinton's latest attempt at engaging with millennials, however - imploring people to tweet their feelings towards student debt in emojis - fell somewhat understandably flat.

So what makes some emoji-centric campaigns succeed while others fail? Should these colourful icons ever be applied outside a purely youth consumer demographic? And what makes them so appealing that even the White House paid notice?

We know the best advertising engages with people in a way that's emotional, meaningful and lasting; something that's becoming increasingly difficult as we move further into a world where time is of the essence. Our attention spans, how we communicate (think WhatsApp and Snapchat), and our relationships with people and brands, are increasingly fleeting.

The multitude of brands simultaneously vying for the attention of an ever more global audience through proliferating touchpoints makes it a struggle just to be heard - and brands have to find more effective ways to communicate.

In an outdoor advertising context, entire brand stories can be conveyed in a split second. Visual appeal is the starting point, and creative that's simple, eye-catching and featuring no more than seven words will achieve greater impact in the average four seconds in which people are engaged with a single poster.

We're often told, particularly in business, that body language speaks louder than words. What the increase in emoji usage is telling us is that people are finding a way to communicate quicker and more efficiently in a way that defies language barriers and is understandable on a global scale.

As Clinton's misfire taught us, emojis aren't suited for all scenarios. For McDonald's and Coca-Cola, based on their product and audience, emojis are a natural fit. There's nothing to undermine our expectations of the brands. However, the principles of emojis can be applied in a sophisticated way that goes far beyond targeting teens.

Last year's campaign from French child advocacy group Innocence en Danger, for instance, transformed emojis into unnerving human faces to warn adults about online predators and the dangers the Internet can pose to children. By manipulating these globally recognisable icons into something grotesque, these images convey a vital message that resonates far beyond their country of origin.

While emojis may not be for everyone, whether at face value or as a symbol, what they teach us about communication is a lesson all brands and businesses should take heed of. How people communicate is changing - and brands need to ensure they are speaking the same language.


Rubbi Bhogal-Wood is business director at Primesight.

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