Why People Now Pay to be Advertised to: Emojis

As a society, humans are always pushing the envelope when it comes to technology, and especially when it is in regards to communication. We’ve gone from face-to-face conversations to letters. From telegraphs to international calling. And now from video chats to emojis.

Whether it be a colon with a parenthesis (aka smiley face) or a complex arrangement of forward slashes and underlines, emojis are everywhere. You use them, your mom uses them, companies use them, even the White House uses them. According to one study by Meltwater, 72.2% of the people they surveyed under the age of 25 used emojis frequently. And you’re likely not surprised by that, considering the demographic; however, emoji use is still high as age increases. According to the same study, 62.3% people above the age of 35 used emojis frequently.Screen Shot 2016-10-10 at 11.30.12 PM.png

One “pioneer” in this new era of pictograph communication is Kim Kardashian. Although a controversial social media figure, there is no doubt she has capitalized this emoji market. About a year ago, Kim Kardashian launched Kimoji, a keyboard full of figures that relate to her and everything else Kardashian/Jenner related. It wasn’t long until the app shot to the top of the App Store charts. While Kimoji did not shut down the App Store (@KanyeWest), it supposedly had up to 9000 downloads per millisecond! The most impressive aspect of this whole launch, though, is that she priced her app at $1.99 (so maybe they did still make a million a minute…@KanyeWest). In a market where many people wouldn’t even pay 99 cents for an app, millions of people have paid $1.99 to send their friends animated characters of someone else. This just speaks to both the power of her brand and the public’s affinity for emojis.

(NSFW Language)

Seeing the power of emojis, nearly everyone and anyone you can think of has followed suit. Amber Rose has launched her own keyboard, as did Charlie Sheen and Drake’s dad. All three are available on the App Store. As I discussed in my last blog post, Domino’s has made it possible to order pizza via emoji. A new report by a marketing automation company, Appboy, shows us how much companies have latched on this market. Appboy “analyzed almost 9,400 marketing campaigns across iOS and Android platforms and discovered that emoji usage within those messages had soared 775% year-over-year in the period ending March 2016.”

Kim Kardashian isn’t the only reason companies are increasing their emoji presence. Multiple studies have demonstrated that emojis have a similar effect on humans when compared to real facial expressions. They activate an area of your brain related to emotional processing. Building on the emotional aspect of emojis, a survey conducted by IPA reported that marketing campaigns “with strictly emotional content performed nearly twice as well as those with exclusively rational content. Emotional campaigns also performed marginally better than campaigns with mixed emotional and rational content.”

This doesn’t mean that any company can just go to Twitter and spam their followers’ feeds with heart emojis to increase sales. Goldman Sachs tried (and failed) to reach millennials by tweeting out this character-filled tweet. A global bank talking about the future of the economy via drawn characters isn’t the best idea. Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton also tried and failed to use the lure of emojis to get millennials engagedScreen Shot 2016-10-10 at 11.22.33 PM.png. While the idea itself isn’t terrible, she too took on the controversial and divisive topic of student debt.

The world of emojis is even more complex than understanding the right time to use emojis. You also have to be contentious of the color of the emoji. According to an article by the Atlantic, the lightest skin color of an emoji was only used about 20% of the time on Twitter in the United States.

This is despite the fact White Americans outnumber Black Americans 4 to 1 on the website. Andrew McGill, the author, mentions some of the concerns that people had when using emojis, such as “it felt awkward to use an affirmatively white emoji; at a time when skin-tone modifiers are used to assert racial identity, proclaiscreen-shot-2016-10-10-at-11-20-04-pmming whiteness felt uncomfortably close to displaying “white pride,” with all the baggage of intolerance that carries.” This issue plagues people of all colors though, as he talked to an Indian engineer who argued to eliminate skin tone modifiers and said “Every time I use an emoji, I have to make a choice: Do I use a colored racemoji, and draw attention to my ethnicity (even when it’s not pertinent), or do I use a default emoji, which may misrepresent me altogether?” Although the issue of color might seem to be more of a personal matter than a business one, the issues of race still plague this nation. One emoji mishap could be all it takes to send a company plummeting.Screen Shot 2016-10-10 at 11.25.13 PM.png

Luckily for business, one quick Google search will bring you hundreds of results of the how to use emojis.

Most importantly, remember this when it comes to using emojis and your brand: “No one is paying to see ads, but they pay to see emoji. Each emoji can be a form of a digital ad. Emoji are no longer just emoji — they’re tiny, adorable commercials.”









  1. Really nice post. I confess that I’m a infrequent emoji user. But, unfortunately, my mother is not. I can validate that just because people over 35 ARE using emojis frequently, doesn’t mean that they SHOULD be using emojis frequently. I’ll leave it at that.

  2. Interesting post! It’s really cool to see the development of emojis. I’m surprised it took as long as it did for emojis to catch-up to our times (including skin tones, homosexual couples, interracial families etc.) I do agree with the engineer that I did appreciate just having the standard yellow so I didn’t have to make a choice every time I want to sent an emoji. But I think having multiple options and making it an inclusive app is more important. I think there’s still a lot of potential for celebrities and companies to capitalize on emoji but it’ll be difficult for them to tailor them to a variety of user demographics.

  3. mikeknoll98 · ·

    I never would have guessed that Emojis trigger an emotional response in our brains. I also agree with your point that Emojis are right for a certain time and place. I could never take a financial company seriously if they used constant emojis and I can absolutely see how it could hurt a political figures reputation. Awesome post.

  4. Really really liked your post. Love that you worked videos into it as well. Not sure I’m into the White House using emoji though…

    As someone using a 2015 android phone, I don’t have the luxury of changing the skin tone of my emoji. But nonetheless it was interesting to see that people are using the none white ones disproportionately to the population of users. I may be somewhat cynical, but I’m not sure it’s always a positive thing…and have definitely seen the colors be abused in inappropriate ways. Great to have a lot of inclusion, but it could just be opening up a whole new can of hateful worms.

    Nice end to the post though – the internet is always ready to supply infinite rules for the ways companies ought to engage with every aspect of social media.

  5. dabettervetter · ·

    Personally, this emoji evolution has left me disappointed. As having red hair I do feel left out because there are no red-headed emojis! And I do not want to make this into a larger than a hair color issue, but I really do wish there was a red haired person at the least. Especially with this being the color I was born with. However, I loved the article as a whole – Kimoji and Bitmoji are so fun and exciting, and sort of preposterous! That is truly an example of what crazy things the internet has opened our world to today.

  6. olearycal · ·

    I found this incredibly interesting. I can’t believe there is actually research on the effect that emojis have on our brain. Perhaps its just me being young and hating when older people try to be hip but I dislike when companies try to use emojis in campaigns to appeal to us. This was evident in a car commercial that asked people to respond to how cars made them feel in emojis. They were simple cars that weren’t particularly original. It’s not like it was a Ferrari so I couldn’t see anyone having such strong emotions for a car. It seems like a gimmick when people like Hillary are trying to use it to appeal to a younger audience. We use emojis for fun, not to talk about cars and policy.

  7. Great post and a very relevant topic right now! I thought the stats were interesting on emotional connection as well. It makes sense when you think of it but also completely caught me off guard!

    Another interesting emerging emoji use by brands is companies building emoji keyboards like Kim Kardashian does. Companies such as Chick Fil A have created their own keyboards and while it doesn’t cost money and this doesn’t hit the bottom line, it is a great way for a brand to be shared socially.

%d bloggers like this: