If there’s one thing I love more than emojis, it’s Bitmojis. Scroll through any of my recent text messages and you’ll find that I use them excessively frequently in conversations with friends and family. Fortunately, though, it doesn’t seem like I’m the only one. Even my Facebook-less dad has gotten on the Bitmoji train.
For this week’s post, I decided to look into Bitmoji to try to understand the reason for its recent success. Here is what I found:
In 2008, a web and mobile application called Bitstrips was founded, allowing users to create comic strips featuring personalized avatars. However, in 2014 Bitstrips decided to shift its focus from comic strips to digital stickers, which they called Bitmoji. Marketed as “your own personal emoji” and “a digital expression of yourself”, the Bitmoji app lets users create customized cartoon avatars, which then appear in a variety of sketches with messages like “good morning” and “happy birthday”. The app (available for free download on iTunes and Google Play) appears as a separate keyboard when you open your messages.
The popularity of Bitmojis and emojis more generally marks a trend toward more visual communication. Some may say that this change is not one for the better, arguing, for example, that the use of emojis leads to more ambiguous messages. Others, however, believe that it fills a gap by adding feeling to our online conversations.
Regardless of your opinion on emoji-use, it’s hard to ignore the growth that Bitmoji has seen in the last 4 years. In fact, in a period between early 2015 and late 2016, the app’s popularity among unique visitors over the age of 18 grew by a reported 5,210%. This meant that by the end of 2016, Bitmoji was getting more than 10 million unique visitors per month.
While certainly not the biggest number when compared to other apps, Bitmoji’s growth attracted the attention of Snap Inc. In March of 2016, Snap acquired Bitstrips for more than $100 million in cash and stock. Now you may be wondering, what does Snap see in Bitmoji to warrant such a high purchase price? Well, the answer lies in the fact that Snapchat and Bitmoji actually have quite a bit in common. Bitmoji’s business model works by essentially making users a part of an ad, a technique that Snapchat is familiar with. Snapchat features like lenses and filters already let users animate photos of themselves to include things like company, product and T.V. show placements. According to Paresh Dave of the LA Times, “the Snapchat ecosystem puts the emphasis on creation of content,” and the addition of Bitmoji is “another great piece in that creation toolkit for users.”
Since the acquisition, Snap has been encouraging users to link their Bitmoji and Snapchat accounts so that their avatars can appear in the Snapchat app. The social media app has also added features like Friendmoji (which creates stickers of you and the person you are snapchatting), 3D Bitmoji world lenses, and Bitmoji filters to their arsenal. In keeping Bitmoji as a separate business unit while also integrating its capabilities into the Snapchat app, Snap has helped Bitmoji continue to grow. In a 2017 study, Bitmoji was recognized as the number 1 most downloaded app in five markets, including the U.S., U.K., France, Canada, and Australia. Bitmoji’s swift ascension was a marked difference to its 2016 (pre-acquisition) standing where it wasn’t even among the top 10.
In the spirit of growth, Snapchat announced last week that it was making a major update to Bitmoji. Currently, the app’s users can choose between two “styles” of avatars: Bitmoji “Classic” and Bitstrips. The update will add a third option, which they’re calling Bitmoji Deluxe and will additional skin tones, hairstyles, hair colors and facial features, among others. On top of adding hundreds of more ways to customize your avatar, Bitmoji Deluxe will allow users to take a selfie which they can then use as a reference when creating their avatars. Snapchats goal in releasing this update is to let users build more ‘inclusive’ and ‘accurate’ representations of themselves.
Last week’s announcement has renewed discussions on Bitmoji’s growing popularity and the sustainability of its business model. Bitmoji’s acquisition by Snapchat, one of the biggest social media apps is enough to convince most people of its viability. Some, however, still question the app’s long-term viability. Either way, it’s clear Bitmoji is contributing to the growth on nontraditional ads; the digital sticker market is still in its infancy and it will take more time to tell whether it will be embraced by marketers.
In the meantime, though, I’ll continue to insert my bitmoji whenever possible.