Emojis. They’ve exploded onto the digital communications landscape, quickly replacing every emoticon smiley, wink and outcry. We can’t escape them. So what place, if any, do they have in advertising?

As someone whose passion is creating unique visual graphics, my immediate reaction to the Emoji Explosion was to avoid these clipart-like icons like the plague. But as a longtime advertising creative, I know it’s critical to see everything with an open mind – and admit when something’s become part of the cultural conversation! So I dug a little deeper into the subject.

During my search, I not only unearthed more emojis than I could have possibly imagined, but a surprising number of examples of brands who have embraced these itty bitty icons in their marketing efforts. Oreo, PETA, Coca-Cola, and Chevy are just a few examples.

While each brand’s approach differed greatly, they all shared a couple of things in common: 1. they were clearly targeting younger audiences when using emojis, and 2. they used them as visual shorthand to express complex emotions.

In spring of 2014, Oreo China launched the “Oreo Bonding Campaign”. It targeted parents who, because of China’s long working hours, weren’t able to directly communicate as much with their children as they’d like. This mobile social campaign enabled users to personalize emojis with their head shots and share them out –resulting in the creation of over 99 million emojis within 11 weeks. The expressive nature of emojis bridged communications between generations and sold a lot of cookies in the process.

(credit: http://www.mobilemarketer.com/cms/news/strategy/17910.html)

Around the same time last year, PETA created a print and TV campaign that used emojis to make the connection from the material goods we all love, to the origins and the animal cruelty associated with the manufacture of those items. This effort was also clearly aimed at a younger demo.

(credit: http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/peta-turns-emojis-seriously-cartoony-take-animal-abuse-156447)

Coca-Cola also embraced emojis and managed to leverage the library of classic smiley faces as an extension of its “Open Happiness” campaign. It also, brilliantly, incorporated them into their web addresses on billboards in Puerto Rico. Another great example of work developed with the insight that emojis have become a second language to younger consumers.

(credit: http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/coca-cola-spreads-happiness-online-first-emoji-web-addresses-163044)

And most recently, Chevy jumped on board impressively when it composed a press release with only emojis. It quickly followed up with an English translation as well as a video that substituted emojis for words. A nifty attempt at capturing the minds (there was some translation work involved!), then hearts, of Millennials.

(credit: http://www.businessinsider.com/chevy-just-put-out-a-press-release-entirely-in-emoji-2015-6)

After my research, I’m ready to call myself an “Emoji Believer.” After all, these tiny graphics have become part of the visual vernacular of the younger demo and are clearly here to stay. That said, emojis are not, in my opinion, an idea in and of themselves. Like every other “device,” emojis are simply the “means by which” to deliver a strong concept based on a true insight.

So would I use emojis in my advertising creative? If the brand’s audience skewed young and they were a natural fit with a great concept, why resist?

Shuhuei Lee
Shuhuei Lee
Senior Art Director

Shuhuei has over a decade of experience in design and art direction across traditional and digital mediums. Her brand experience spans from the produce aisle to the frozen food section. As one of the original Smith hires (the first, to be exact), she can probably tell you as much about the history and experience of Smith Brothers Agency as Bronson and Lindsey themselves.

She always had a creative passion, but her career really began with a sandwich board in Buffalo. She instantly fell in love with how her creativity could be used for marketing purposes.

Shuhuei holds a B.S. in Graphic Design from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.