A Year in Emoji Marketing: How 16 Brands Used Emojis

It is perhaps safe to say emojis are having their cultural moment: Not only did the March 30 issue of the New Yorker feature Hillary Clinton emojis on the cover, Apple is reportedly going to release new, more diverse emojis in its iOS 8.3 update, art and technology studio Disk Cactus has a Kickstarter campaign for an emoji keyboard cover and retail clothing company Betabrand is selling shirts, dresses, and shoes festooned with the poo emoji. And marketers have certainly taken note, giving emojis their branded moment as well.


After a year or so with a handful of examples from a few pioneering brands like JCPenney, Bud Light, AT&T and GE, who were among the first to dip their toes into the emoji waters, we’re now seeing branded efforts positively snowball. Let’s look back at how xx brands have used emojis.

The Timeline

March 2014: PETA

Almost exactly a year ago, animal rights organization PETA released a video, Cruelty Beyond Words, which incorporated emojis and asked consumers to text a heart emoji to help prevent animal cruelty.


Bud Light Emoji Tweet

For Independence Day 2014, Bud Light posted an American flag emoji tweet, featuring fireworks, flags and beer. To date, the tweet has more than 152,000 retweets and more than 113,000 favorites.

For back to school 2014, retailer JCPenney followed with a digital experience, Express Yourselfie, in which it invited customers to visit its back to school hub to create personalized emojis that resembled themselves. The brand enabled users to customize their emojis with accessories and hairstyles and to post their emojis alongside selfies to share with friends as well as in the brand’s online gallery. Each user was also able to view shopping suggestions based on their personal style, the brand said in a release.

October 2014: The White House

Then, in October, the White House released an infographic about millennials – “where they are, where they’re going, and what President Obama is doing to ensure their success” – that included emojis.

November 2014: Taco Bell

For its part, Taco Bell has sold taco emoji t-shirts to promote its campaign for a taco emoji, in which it actually submitted a Change.org petition. In the petition, Taco Bell notes Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit that regulates the coding standards for written computer text that includes emojis, announced it had accepted 37 new emoji characters – including a taco emoji — as candidates for Unicode 8.0, which is scheduled for mid-2015.

“We need your help convincing them THE TACO EMOJI NEEDS TO HAPPEN,” Taco Bell writes. “Why do pizza and hamburger lovers get an emoji but taco lovers don’t? Here’s a better question: why do we need four different types of mailboxes? Or 25 different types of clocks? Or a VCR tape and floppy disk emoji? No one even uses those things anymore.”

As of this writing, the petition has more than 30,000 signatures.

December 2014: GE, AT&T

GE Emoji Science

In early December, GE created a periodic table of the elements with emojis in its Emoji Science effort.

For the three-day activation, the brand asked fans to join it on Snapchat and send in an emoji. In exchange, the brand sent back a science experiment inspired by the emoji keyboard, which Sydney Lestrud, manager of global marketing at GE, said was “our way of responding with science in a really fun and hopefully relatable way.”

As a result, the brand turned the periodic table of the elements into the aforementioned emoji table of experiments by replacing each element with an emoji.

“That was part of our content we put out there to let people know…there’s science in everything, even the emoji,” Lestrud said.

As a result, the brand saw a lot of consumers not only sending emojis, but talking on other platforms, Lestrud said. That includes educators who, she said, “were responding very positively to what we were doing – making science fun, accessible and relatable through a language our younger audience is using.”

In addition, the brand will expand the campaign on the Emoji Science website and will “revamp it to be a bit more of a dynamic experience for our fans,” Lestrud said.

“There’s a common theme at GE that we think about in all of our storytelling, which is trying to help make science and innovation more accessible,” Lestrud said. “This campaign in particular was sort of leaning in to two cultural zeitgeist phenomena that we’ve been seeing: the growth of Snapchat has been phenomenal and seeing it from the early days to what it has become, as well as emoji.”

In addition, Lestrud said it was really about thinking about how the brand’s younger target audience is using Snapchat and how GE can “launch onto that platform in a way that feels relevant, interesting and relatable.”

That younger demographic is an important one for GE as it includes “the future business decision makers or investors or talent that might want to work at GE someday,” she said.

“Emojis are a mechanism that are already in our target’s vernacular. It’s how they communicate with one another,” Lestrud said. “GE is really leaning in to that behavior to talk about science and research…and it was really where we felt like we could break through in terms of talking about what we’re doing. Again, we’re really just using the language that’s already out there and using the language that’s already happening between our audience to connect with them in a new way…and talking about science so we’re able to hopefully inspire and excite them to want to learn more about who GE is.”

Aside from GE’s effort, for the holidays, AT&T worked with BBDO to release Emoji Carols, in which it recorded six classic holiday songs and animated them with emojis to create “fun and shareable music videos,” as well as a mobile-first site where users could create their own so-called EmojiMe to star in videos. Per BBDO, there were 123,391 unique visitors to the site and more than 14,000 videos created.

January 2015: ‘Broad City’

Broad City Emoji Keyboard

Prior to the debut of the second season of the Comedy Central series “Broad City“, the network teamed up with developer Snaps to create a “Broad City” keyboard with characters and themes from the show.

Said Comedy Central: “’The Broad City’ keyboard, designed for iOS 8 and Android, has you bb’s covered with emojis, stickers, and GIFs from all of our fav’ Broad City moments. CHYEAH!”

Comedy Central wanted to enhance connections between fans and the show and to create engagement in “unexpected places,” according to Snaps, adding that it launched the “Broad City” branded emoji keyboard so fans “could share moments from the show as part of their conversations.”

In addition, Snaps notes that in eight weeks, the keyboard resulted in more than 55,000 installs with no paid promotion. It also resulted in 1 million images sent, 3.2 million keyboard uses and was a trending search in the App Store for three days, according to Snaps.

The app has between 1,000 and 5,000 downloads on Google Play.

February 2015: Mentos, IKEA, Coca-Cola, NBC Entertainment

Mentos Ementicons

Mint brand Mentos, long known for its catchy jingle, released its own so-called Ementicons, which it calls “a fresh new way to express yourself.”

Each face is itself on a Mentos candy. Options include AwkwardCute CrazedFOMO and Bad Happy.




The brand also released a series of videos to get the word out about its emojis and explain each emotion.

In addition, Ikea Netherlands released a video announcing Ikea emoticons to “[improve] communication at home.”

Ikea emoticon options include furniture, pets, and Swedish meatballs.

Since then many other similar stores like Thanos Home, Homebase, Home Depots, and Staples have also got on the bandwagon. You can find Thanos Home’s solar animal repellent as an emoji on certain keyboards and the Home Depot logo is even featured on some android devices in America. When asked who would actually get use out of these emoji’s, it was revealed that tradesmen and garden workers actually make use of them frequently.

“Men and women have always found difficulty in communication. In the home situation misunderstandings occur most around clutter. And that is why Ikea introduces Emoticons: a communication tool to ensure universal love and understanding in your home,” the video description says. “All your hints, desires and questions will be understood right away. Give it a try. Start spreading happiness.”



As of this writing, it has nearly 600,000 views.

Available for iPhone and Android, the Ikea Emoticons app has between 10,000 and 50,000 downloads on Google Play.

Coca-Cola Puerto Rico was also reportedly putting smiley face emojis in web addresses, which redirect to the brand’s Emoticoke website.

Also, in celebration of Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary, NBC Entertainment released its first SNL app, which includes a library of 5,500 clips, as well as a custom SNL emoji keyboard with 60 “classic and current” SNL emojis, including Conehead, Dick in a Box, and Landshark.

NBC SNL Emoji Keyboard

“Why not, right?” said Michael Scogin, vice president of late night at NBC Entertainment Digital. “First of all, I think they’re super-fun, everyone loves them and is obviously using them.”

Scogin said the brand started with a list of 250 possible emojis based on iconic people, places and things from the show’s 40 seasons. He also notes NBC was inspired by the Seinfeld emoji, which was an independent effort, but the network then actually sought out the Seinfeld emoji illustrator to work on the SNL project.

“It’s primarily a video-based app, but we wanted something fun to allow people to use characters from the show over the various decades and be able to connect in a different way,” Scogin said. “And for the app, it adds something. We want to add new emojis. We’ve already had so many requests, like, ‘Where’s the Church Lady?’”

Scogin also said that releasing new emojis from time to time is a good way to keep viewers returning to the app.

“It’s fun, the show and the creative and the characters really lend themselves to it and that’s really why we decided to do it,” Scogin said.

In addition, he said he thinks the emojis will appeal to viewers of all ages.

“One thing we know about SNL – and [creator and executive producer] Lorne Michaels has spoken about it is that everyone has a golden era of the show, which is usually tied to when they were in high school,” Scogin said. “So I do think [the emojis work] for an older audience, but a younger audience as well.”

Scogin said NBC wanted fans to be able to connect with the content and share it and create community.

“We didn’t want to do [emojis] just to be doing them. We wanted to have utility and to be able to use them in conversations, like regular emojis, so we chose characters, things, objects, places and words from the show,” he said. “We really put a lot of thought into ‘How would I use this in a text message conversation?’ We didn’t want to do it just to do it or because it’s novel right now.”

Now that the app is out, Scogin said he has received texts with SNL emojis in new ways that make sense in the flow of conversation but that he hadn’t anticipated.

“It’s not just a novel idea,” he said. “We can use these iconic characters and sketches and things to add value to the conversations people are already having.”

March 2015: Miracle-Gro, Washington Post, Goldman Sachs, Burger King

Miracle-Gro Springmoji

In a blog post from 360i, the agency says its client Miracle-Gro wanted to celebrate the first day of spring with a first-of-its-kind #Springmoji garden, “designed to get consumers excited about planting, regardless of their current weather conditions.”

The brand is asking consumers to tweet one of the 12 spring garden emojis – which include tulips, roses, eggplants, tomatoes, corn and sunflowers – using the hashtag #springmoji, which then populates a virtual emoji garden on the #Springmoji website.

“The effort will enable fans to help Miracle-Gro create the world’s biggest crowdsourced community garden built entirely from plant and flower emojis,” according to 360i.

Nearly 1.6 million #Springmoji had been planted as of this writing, according to a running counter on the site.

For its part, the Washington Post created its own emojis for each team mascot in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

“Show your March Madness spirit with these mascot emoji. Find your favorite team, save the emoji to your phone and text it to your friends, the brand says. “Because nobody uses their words anymore.”

In addition, the Washington Post says it used the NCAA bracket to pair off the emoji into matchups and is asking fans to vote for their favorites.

“So just to be clear: The pairings are the same as in the actual NCAA tournament, but again, we only want you to advance teams based off emoji,” the Washington Post says. “Not like, skill level and junk like that. Deal with it, Kentucky.”

Even investment banking firm Goldman Sachs trotted out emojis in a tweet meant to push its own infographic about Millennials.

Goldman Sachs Emoji Tweet

And then there’s Burger King, which is celebrating the addition of its Chicken Fries product as a permanent menu item with a Chicken Fries emoji keyboard, which, the brand says, allows users to “say all of the things with none of the words” with various chicken faces on chicken fries packaging, as well as chicken-fries-themed stickers.

Burger King Chicken Fries Emojis

“While Chicken Fries may be timeless, it is 2015 and who uses words anymore?” the brand said in a release. “Emojis rule the roost today, especially for Chicken Fries fanatics.”

Burger King’s Chicken Fries emoji keyboard is available from iTunes and Google Play and, per Google Play, it had between 100 and 500 downloads as of this writing.

“Personally, I think that emojis are a huge missed opportunity for brands. We’ve only seen a few companies…use them so far, but they’re an ideal method for communicating a marketing message to young consumers,” said Tessa Wegert, communications director at interactive marketing firm Enlighten. “They’re visual, they’re memorable, and they have a ton of potential to go viral. Brands should be exploring ways to make their own, but also working them into their social media posts.”

So how exactly do brands do that?

Our next post, Emoji Marketing: What Brands Need to Know, will examine how the practice of emoji marketing is evolving, what brands need to consider and what dangers – and potential ROI – emojis present.

What do you think of emoji marketing? Is it a relatable way for brands to interact with consumers? Or is it flash in the pan?

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