Just when you thought speaking in 140 characters was teaching us all a whole new art of expression, emojis are set to change the rules of the game all over again.
We are living at a time when a
is the most beloved icon and typing a word in the search bar is so passe. Google now allows you to search using emojis while Kayak.com has rolled out travel searches on its site by introducing ten searchable emoji/city combinations, with more on the way.
The language of expression is widely used in Facebook posts, Instagram images, WhatsApp messages and Tweets. Take for instance the tweet by Hillary Clinton who asked her followers to share how student loan debt makes them feel using 3 emojis.
How does your student loan debt make you feel?— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 12, 2015
Tell us in 3 emojis or less.
Nearly 8,500 people responded. Some as below.
It is not surprising that emojis have gained popularity in such as short time. Facial expressions, body language, voice and tone play an important role in all face-to-face communications. Emojis make for great visual aids to communicate our emotions together with the message. The creator of emojis, Shigetaka Kurita, designed them way back in the 90s to be able to “communicate beyond language”.
There are now dictionaries, emojipedias, sites that translate your message into emojis, Emojisaurus, and even vernacular language aides so you can express in ways you feel most comfortable. SINmoji, for instance, is an app developed by a Singaporean web company, XVision, which lets users express Singlish terms such as “cheem”, “shiok”, “kiasu”, “so sian” via emojis.
Come August, Sony Pictures will release its much awaited Emoji movie: Express Yourself.
All of this is quite an achievement for the vocabulary of pictographs, which has earned its place in the calendar of celebrations with 17 July marked as the world Emoji Day; a day that encourages us all to be more expressive.
Emojis have been around since the 90s but the reason they are gaining popularity now more than ever before is because of 2 key factors: smartphones and millennials. We can all expect the rise of emoji marketing agencies, branding consultancies and growth of AIs that will determine psychographics of a user based on their emoji reactions in the next coming years.
What is inevitable is that this language of expression will change the marketing communications industry. Here are just a few cues:
Gender Neutrality and embracing diversity
The emoji world is very inclusive. If you look at the 69 new emojis released for 2017, they are all gender, race and age neutral – its mages, zombies, fairies, genies, elves, vampires and even “merpersons” are both genders. The emoji vocabulary represents all age groups: child, adult and an older person, goes beyond just colour to feature a variety of ethnicities, includes cultural connotations and is even breaking taboos.
For instance, there is an emoji for two men holding hands denoting a gay couple;
a woman wearing a hijab that was proposed by a Saudi Arabian teen;
a man and woman sitting in lotus position, and folded hands emoji which is widely used in Asian culture to represent gratitude and by the Western culture to represent high five.
It even features an emoji for breastfeeding mother that was proposed by a nurse in Britain to make the practice more acceptable in the Western culture.
It is also considering including a male and female redhead emoji for “ginger equality”.
Millennials and post-millennials are growing up and exchanging emojis that are more gender, age and ethnicity neutral. So, while we may remain prudish in our response to seeing women breastfeeding openly, or accept the representation of only one gender in brand messaging, these stereotypes may have to change, and with that, the marketing industry will have to change as well.
For all marketers, building brand trust is utmost. Millennials, and more so, post-millennials, understand and appreciate the value of authenticity and adopt brands that are genuine and human in their messaging.
Brands that wanting to build trust in the 21st century must exhibit elements of humanity in their messaging. At the heart of the language of emojis is a degree of vulnerability. They offer simple ways to express brands are real.
McCann Health India’s very first Health Emoji stickers for Narayan Health are a good example. McCann Health found there are no emojis to express common ailments like cold, headaches, fever, aches and pains. It released a set of 18 emoji stickers allowing youngsters to express without having to text. Its simple idea was “healing by expression". This allowed Narayana Health to connect with its audiences and play a more meaningful role in their lives. McCann Health has petitioned to Unicode Consortium to include Health Expressions as universal emoji characters across all smartphones.
A picture speaks a thousand words. Emojis uncomplicate everything. Simplicity in communications that is not nuanced or layered builds authenticity.
Emojis change the tone of conversations, emojis can be responded to by emojis, they transcend geographies and linguistic barriers. They are extremely simple, profoundly human and immensely effective.
Dominos’ simple campaign that allows users to place an order by texting or tweeting a pizza emoji is one such example.
So, do you speak emoji?
It is almost as if the world has come a full circle, speaking in the language of pictures before words came into being. The emoji language is far from being perfect; indeed, for many, it is really a regression. Yet, it is the fastest growing digital language with boundless opportunities to fill up the space where text fails.
This is how we will relate to one another in the digital age. I’d say...
...to that. For those of you that don’t know, the Star Trek Vulcan salute in emoji language means “Live long and prosper.”
Madhavi Tumkur is the founder and director of marketing communications consultancy, Enterprise PR.