How To Properly Leverage Trends: Emoji Edition

Marketers, and the agencies which lead them, are heavily jumping on the emoji trend. PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Disney have all published an emoji marketing campaign; additionally, over 250 brands have created their own emoji keyboard within the past year. 

Brands aren’t the only ones flocking to branded emojis,  so are the rich and famous. Reality star, Kim Kardashian West, launched Kimoji in December of 2015 for a whopping $1.99 per download. On the day of her keyboard launch, the Kimoji keyboard broke the Apple App store -  there were 9,000 downloads per millisecond. This means Kim Kardashian was making bank! Cha-Ching! Reconsidering your life choices right about now? Yeah me, too. 

Emoji usage is huge. Ninety two percent of the online population use emojis. On average, 76%  percent of people age 29 identify with being frequent emoji users. The other 24% don’t know what they're missing! This overwhelming usage of emoji’s has led brands to jump on the bandwagon and invest heavily in emoji-centric campaigns. 

In fact, both PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch InBev paid Twitter $1MM to run custom emojis during Super Bowl 50; this was the first time branded emojis were sold to promote a national event. 


But, what makes a branded campaign successful? Let’s take a look at a few emoji campaigns from the past few years. 

In 2015, Coca Cola launched the first-ever Admoji in partnership with Twitter with their #ShareACoke campaign. The campaign allowed anyone to share a virtual (emoji) coke, and went viral within hours of launch - ultimately setting the world record for the World’s Largest Cheers

Domino’s “tweet-to-order” pizza emoji campaign is another example of a successful emoji-centric campaign. Launched in May of this year the campaign was simple - you tweet an emoji pizza to Domino’s to order a pizza of your choice to be delivered straight to your door. The campaign generated thousands of uses the week of launch, and generated an overwhelming amount of media coverage - ultimately getting covered by USA Today, Forbes, Good Morning America, and even Jimmy Fallon. This innovative, first ever usage of emoji’s ended up winning the 2016 Cannes Titanium Grand Prix for most breakthrough idea of the year. 

So why and when should we leverage emojis in our campaigns?

Here’s the criteria you should focus on: first, marketers should ensure emojis make sense for the target demo. Secondly, emoji’s should add value to the campaign. Thirdly, emoji’s should be used in a manner that’s native to the user and platforms.

Let’s go ahead and break the above formula down a little. In the case of Domino’s we can assume they followed a similar strategy in regards to approaching a trend:


In the Domino’s Cannes Lions case study, they clearly stated they wanted a way to appeal to the younger generation of consumers who are used to instant, wordless communication in a world of Snapchat, Instagram and the one word Yo! messaging app. Of the population using emojis, we know that 72.2% are under the age of 25. Therefore, leveraging emojis as a targeting tactic was on point for Domino’s. 

Add Value: 

Twitter’s platform lends itself to the awesome way of ordering that Domino’s created -  it’s a fast paced platform for fast food. Additionally, it’s a quick and easy approach to get your pizza of choice delivered straight to your door versus having to call, or order online.

Keep it Native: 

Domino’s clearly did their research before launching their campaign - they understood that since emoji’s were introduced to the Twitter platform, billions have been used and it’s become an integral part of communication on the platform.

Of course, not all emoji campaigns are successful. For example, McDonald’s turned an entire town into emojis for one of its ads in the UK. The ad wasn’t terrible, however, it didn’t resonate, in large part because its use wasn’t native to the platform. People use emojis to communicate and express their feelings. Emojis aren’t turned into real life people and situations. 

Some additional emojis gone bad examples, include the brands who have done “major key alert” parodies. The catchphrase “major key alert” (in conjunction with the “key” emoji) has become wildly popular due to its repeated use by DJ Khaled. Brands such as Uber, Mastercard and Wingstop have all jumped on the “major key alert” bandwagon, but their content had no correlation to the proper use of the term, which means something is a big deal or major announcement. 

For example, Uber used the phrase to talk about how essential their service is  to society on a rainy day. Really? Like, why are they stating the obvious, right? 


Mastercard also used the phrase to talk about ID theft alerts. That’s just sort of weird. Wingstop used the phrase to talk about their chicken wings. Although Wingstop has some bomb ass chicken wings, it’s no major key because that’s literally what they do- make chicken wings. Now, if they released a new flavor like mango habanero (hint, hint) that would definitely call for a major key alert. 

In all of these instances, DJ Khaled’s emoji coined phrase serves the consumer no purpose - they provided no additional value to the consumer.  The brands would have been better off sending an informative message instead of using a popular phrase which they could not properly tie back to their brand. 

Having seen both good and bad examples, it’s important to go back to our filter and ask yourself - does this align with the overarching campaign? Does it add value? Is it relevant to my target consumer and is it native to the platform? Don’t just jump on the bandwagon!