Opinion

From McDonald's to Ikea, 7 of the best emoji marketing campaigns

It's the world's fastest-growing digital language and brands are beginning to build it into their marketing campaigns in their attempts to target millennials, says Mark Middlemas, director of communications at RadiumOne and Aidan Lonergan, a 'millennial' marketing intern.

The above means 'Do you speak emoji?'
The above means 'Do you speak emoji?'

Emojis, which had their own celebratory 'day' earlier this month, were first invented in 1999 in Japan for use on the earliest forms of mobile platforms but have their roots in the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt – the idea of a visual language to communicate.

In the increasingly cluttered digital age their use is becoming more pronounced – arguably accentuated by the increasingly lazy disposition technology advances create in all of us.

Four in five 18–65 year use emojis on a regular basis, while 72% of 18-25s find it easier to express emotion through emojis rather than written word. 

Everyone's getting on the emoji bandwagon; earlier this year, the Australian foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop (touted as that country’s next Prime Minister) gave BuzzFeed the world’s first political interview using only emojis. New generations of smartphones and tablets now incorporate emoji as standard on their keyboard.

But what relevance does it really have for brands? In short, it has intriguing possibilities and benefits, particularly in regards to attracting a new swathe of that most elusive of audiences – millennials. Some forward-thinking brands are already adapting to the emoji rise by taking new and, some might say, risky approaches to their marketing campaigns.

As well as the convenience element, emojis essentially work well for millennials on two fronts. Firstly, it takes simplistic messaging to a whole new level.

However, secondly, this simplicity builds in a playful ‘puzzle’ or curiosity-inducing element conducive to engagement, virality and sharing. Online sharing is evolving quickly and new languages are appearing all the time as the millennial generation continue to express themselves through technology.

The importance of understanding how and what generates engagement and sharing is critical if brands are to connect with this influential audience. By trying to speak to them on their own terms, there's more chance brands can connect with them and they may ‘let you in'.


1. McDonald's

McDonald's released ‘minimalist’ billboard ads made up entirely of emoji’s to get the message of the restorative powers of its meals for the ‘Good Times’ campaign. Initially trialled in Paris, the success means they’re being rolled out globally.

The risk element was highlighted by a ‘physical hacker’ who "edited" (or defaced) a billboard in Bristol by adding a vomiting emoji to the end.




2. Chevrolet 

Ahead of the arrival of its Cruze model, Chevrolet put out a press release made up entirely of emojis because "emoji is international in its adoption and we wanted to have fun and be irreverent with our audience," said the car marque's head of social media.

Chevrolet created a press release entirely out of emojis



3. Norwegian air shuttle

The airline Norwegian air shuttle created the emoji URL below to target a very specific group – people wanting to fly from Copenhagen to Las Vegas.The URL was pushed out on Instagram – a primarily millennial social network – solely by partner influencers, not the brand itself, and had 1,600 hits on day one. The airline said the posts generated 4,171 likes and reached over 500,000 people.The marketing spokesperson succinctly summed up the power of emojis when it comes to millennials, by saying it was about reaching the target audience "differently than they are used to" and about "capturing the target audience’s curiosity, and to communicate the message in an innovative and humorous way".

Western Samoa is one of a few countries which allow the use of non-Latin characters in their URLs



4. WWF

The WWF employed a #EndangeredEmoji Twitter campaign to help save animals from extinction.

The charity created 17 emojis for endangered animals and are encouraging people to donate 10p every time they retweet one.

WWF's original fundraising idea



5. Domino’s Pizza

The ‘labour-saving’ convenience element of emojis we referred to earlier is well illustrated by Domino’s 'tweet to order' scheme.

Once customers have registered an ‘Easy Order’ account with Domino’s – including details of their pizza preferences – simply tweeting a pizza emoji will result in a delivery.




6. Ikea

Promoting the idea of emojis' efficiency, Ikea launched a range of domestically-themed emojis, including ones symbolising its different ranges of furniture.

The video campaign claims how they’ll supposedly reduce friction at home by letting couples communicate with each other more efficiently about things they have done, such as having vacuumed the house.




7. Intelligent Environments

Highlighting the convenience angle, financial tech company Intelligent Environments claims to have created the world’s first emoji-only passcode allowing people to log into their bank accounts instead of using a 4-digit PIN code.

The company claims an emoji passcode is mathematically more secure and easier to remember than traditional passcodes.

Emojis inject a bit of fun into the annoyance of remembering a passcode