Thinking about using emojis in your marketing? Ask yourself these questions first.

Thinking about using emojis in your marketing? Ask yourself these questions first.

Emojis. You know, those little pictures that have taken over the internet, and are prevalent in communication between millennials. There’s practically one for everything, and the official emojipedia (yes, that’s a thing) continues to grow. There’s even an official Unicode Emoji Subcommittee, which is responsible for compiling and approving the standardized code for these little doodads across all platforms.

There are positions on both ends of the spectrum on whether emojis are actually improving language or are actually a sign of the decline of written language. (I personally lean toward agreement with this rather scathing editorial in The Guardian that they’re dragging us back to the dark ages. In fact, research has shown that using emojis makes people think you are incompetent. But I digress.)

Whether you love them, loathe them, or are somewhere in between depending on context, reality is that emoji is literally the fastest growing language.

Naturally, when something starts to catch on among the masses, brands start to take notice, embracing popular trends and inserting themselves into the pop culture zeitgeist. They start incorporating the latest trends into their marketing, whether anybody actually wanted them to or not.

Some major brands have had success with using emoji, such as World Wildlife Fund, who made a set of their own emojis of endangered animals and donated money each time one of them was retweeted. Taco Bell claims to have had a hand in creating a demand for a taco emoji and continues to successfully incorporate it into their marketing. (Frankly, as fast as emojis were being created at the time, a taco was likely inevitable, anyway. If I were in charge of Taco Bell’s marketing, I’d be putting heavy emphasis on a chihuahua emoji for nostalgic reasons.)

I only put this picture here because I’ve always loved the chihuahua.

Some big brands have totally missed the mark, like Chevrolet and Juicy Fruit.

The world is still trying to figure this one out.

Of course, since there seem to be more successes than fails from the big name brands, now there’s no shortage of agencies online offering guides on how to use emojis in your brand’s marketing. Just do a simple search and you’ll find plenty (that I won’t be linking to here).

But before you jump on the emoji train 🚂, there are some important things you need to consider.

Questions to ask yourself before hopping on the emoji bandwagon 🎸🚃 in your marketing 

(I couldn’t resist.)

Who is my audience, and will they “get it”?

I mentioned above that millennials, by far, use emoji the most. While that’s true, the age range of the “millennial” generation is murky in and of itself, and even going by the most widely-accepted numbers, the term is a very wide swath that does not take into consideration other demographic information such as gender, socioeconomic status, cultural identity, and so on.

This billboard is a widely-cited example of brilliant marketing using emojis:

It’s advertising the movie Deadpool.

When I first saw it, I thought to myself, “Skull crapple? What does that even mean?” Many people who were the target audience for the movie “got it,” but many didn’t. I certainly didn’t. (But am I the target demo for the movie? Though my age and other factors might point to yes, I had no interest in seeing it. Yet it was forced on me like broccoli on a little kid and I hated it. But that’s another story for another time.)

Will my audience understand what I’m trying to convey?

Along similar lines as the above, if you don’t know which emojis mean what or how to say what you’re trying to say, chances are your audience will be confused too. Don’t try to use them if you’re not 100% sure what they actually construe. While emoji is generally regarded as a language without borders, certain pictures are interpreted differently to different cultures, and many are easily misunderstood. For example, this 💫 allegedly means “dizzy” and not “shooting star;” this 👹 is apparently a Japanese ogre and not intended to indicate anger. (I once heard that the ever-popular 💩 was supposed to mean chocolate ice cream, but who are we kidding?)

What is my brand’s voice really like?

A common argument that is used to encourage businesses to use emoji in their marketing is that it will “loosen up” the brand voice and make them seem more fun and personable. But depending on who you are and what you do, that might not be the best idea. A funeral director would hardly want to come across as fun and jovial when marketing their services, even if there is a coffin emoji ⚰️. Nor would a law firm who specializes in criminal defense, even though there are emojis like this: ☠️🦹🏻‍♂️🚔🚓⚖️

Do I want to use them because other brands are, or because it actually reflects my brand?

Not only can they make your brand seem unprofessional, they can also imply that you’re simply trying too hard. Personally, I think any company using them actively in their marketing looks unprofessional and it’s a real turnoff for me.

Can this possibly backfire?

Practically anything can. Just ask Hillary Clinton’s social media team:

The bottom line

While some companies are successfully using emojis in their marketing, it may not be the right thing for you. Emoji may be the “fastest growing language” and a hot trend in digital marketing right now, but you know what else was a popular trend? Popup ads. Sure, they still exist, but nobody likes them and you probably have a browser option to block them altogether.  

To be clear, I’m not anti-emoji—they’re cute and fun in small doses. But so are puppies and children. If you don’t watch them carefully, they’ll make a mess.  And you should never rely on them to speak for you. 

Substituting a cartoon picture for a word or implied sentiment is no excuse for not being able to convey your brand’s message accurately. Never underestimate the power of the written word. That’s why you hire a professional writer.

Stacy Lukasavitz Steele, Principal of Text on Fire Communications™

Stacy Lukasavitz Steele is the multi-disciplined writer behind Text on Fire Communications™. Formerly known online as “that damned redhead,” this seasoned digital strategist and analyst has been setting fire to the interwebs for over 20 years in one capacity or another. She takes the English language much more seriously than she takes herself, but must warn you that the stereotypes about redheads are true. She is passionate about helping brands find their voice and delivering the right messages to the right people. If you’re a cool company looking for some hot copy, you’re in the right place. Drop her a line via the contact form

Why Text on Fire doesn’t do social media.

Why Text on Fire doesn’t do social media.

Text on Fire does not "do" social media

As I mentioned in my first blog post on this new domain, I’ve been away for a while. And by “away” I mean “the digital marketing corner of the internet,” and by “a while” I mean SEVEN YEARS. Once I came out of that Space Mountain-like roller coaster of an accidental life chapter, to say that I was reluctant to return to the world of digital would be an understatement. By its very nature, technology and the way we communicate is changing so quickly now it’s overwhelming, if not impossible, to keep up. 

So, I thought I should start poking around some of my “old haunts” — blogs and communities of others in the field of whom I highly respected, to see what they’ve been up to. What the “latest” was. I admit that in my seven-year absence, I had not paid much attention at all. I knew there were a lot of new tools/platforms that I wasn’t familiar with (Snapchat, anyone?) that had come to the forefront, some other tools of which I was an “early adopter” and had abandoned a few years ago (Twitter) had become mainstream, and others had disappeared. 

As I found myself perusing these former digital “stomping grounds” and revisiting old colleagues on the web, one thing stood out — I didn’t miss a damned thing.

The same people were spouting out the same ideas they were not just seven years ago, but a decade ago. The same ideas, being rehashed/recycled over and over again, but in different packaging.

Of course they were. Why? Because while technology and tools may change, the basic underlying principles of marketing and public relations do not. 

I was recently catching up with an old “digital colleague,” Kiki L’Italien, after an Association Chat about this. She agreed with me, but pointed out:

“The underlying lessons are the same, but the channels and algorithms have changed a lot. . . [there is] too much stuff to keep up with! I used to teach . . . online courses for Facebook marketing and had to redo units twice before the last course launched because FB made significant changes overnight.”

Kiki L’Italien

I concede that much; there is too much stuff to keep up with. Especially when you have clients who turn to you to keep up with the latest platforms and how they can use them.

But overall, tools don’t matter. They’re a means to an end.

Seven years ago (earlier, if we’re being honest), when I was ears deep in this kind of thing, it was all about figuring out your “Twitter strategy” or your “Facebook strategy.” Now it’s all about your “Instagram strategy.” While it’s true that there is more than one way to skin a cat, the social media/digital marketing bubble online, after all this time, is still focused much more on each new cat. 

Let’s think about this in terms of sports.

The Detroit Lions (bless their hearts), despite being a professional team, are one of the worst teams in football (if not the worst). Say you give them all new equipment — jerseys, cleats, pads, and oh yeah, a new stadium (this all happened) — guess what? They’re still the Detroit Lions, and they’ll never win the Super Bowl, let alone get there. But then there’s the New England Patriots. The Patriots don’t need all new duds — even if they played in ratty old jerseys and 10-year-old cleats — they’d still be a winning team. You can make all the jokes about deflated footballs you want, but the Pats have now won six Super Bowls since 2002.

Football depends on skills of the players, yes, but it’s mostly about game strategy as a whole. Depending on how the game goes, plays and tactics may change, but the overall game is the same. A football team’s equipment only matters to a point. 

If a person or a company marketed themselves solely on “social media strategy,” they’re basically marketing themselves as the equivalent of the equipment manager for the Detroit Lions.

Don’t get me wrong — social media can be an important part of a healthy communication strategy. But it can not, and should not, be solely relied upon. It is important to know that “social media” is not a verb, but rather an ever-changing collection of tools. Tools are not strategy. Tools aren’t even tactics, they’re a means to deliver them. A true strategist knows the difference. If a person or a company marketed themselves solely on “social media strategy,” they’re basically marketing themselves as the equivalent of the equipment manager for the Detroit Lions.

That is why Text on Fire™ doesn’t “do social media.” Been there, done that — got plenty of redundant conference lanyards. What we do do is help small businesses, agencies, associations, and even large corporations develop and deliver the right messages to the right people, the right way. Those ways may include “social media,” but not exclusively. Everything is contingent on a company and its overall goals. Our goal is to assist those businesses by strategic consulting, and creating enticing content that engages the customer, converts to sales, and leaves a lasting impression. 


Stacy Lukasavitz Steele, Principal of Text on Fire Communications™

Stacy Lukasavitz Steele is the multi-disciplined writer behind Text on Fire Communications™. Formerly known online as “that damned redhead,” this seasoned digital strategist and analyst has been setting fire to the interwebs for over 20 years in one capacity or another. She takes the English language much more seriously than she takes herself, but must warn you that the stereotypes about redheads are true. She is passionate about helping brands find their voice and delivering the right messages to the right people. If you’re a cool company looking for some hot copy, you’re in the right place. Drop her a line via the contact form