As the global messaging market continues to expand, brands are rightfully seeking the best ways to achieve the most personalized, real-time communication with consumers. As a form of communication, emojis offer brands an unparalleled, seamless entry into the conversations consumers are already having. With more than 92% of the online population using emojis, some brands have even built entire functions around them, including Domino’s wildly successful tweet-to-order pizza delivery service which singularly relies on users sending the pizza emoji.
Twitter has taken the trend one step further with their latest ad product, sponsored emojis, wherein a custom emojis appear when users enter a specific branded hashtag. For this new offering, Twitter is charging a hefty fee of $1 million, with a package for brands consisting of emojis as well as a combination of either promoted trends (which typically run for $200,000), promoted moments, or promoted tweets. Still, brands are hopping on board, as Twitter has already rolled out 13 sponsored emojis for brands like Coke, Starbucks, Spotify and Dove.
Sponsored emojis open a new frontier for branded visual communication. Coca-Cola was the first global advertiser to pioneer this new opportunity with their #ShareACoke Twitter campaign, where they set a record for the “World’s Largest Cheers” thanks to the 170,500 custom Coke bottle emojis triggered through mentions of #ShareACoke. More recently, Budweiser created an integrated campaign for the Super Bowl, using #GiveADamn to trigger a custom emoji in support of their TV ad. Budweiser’s #GiveADamn, however, highlighted a major issue with sponsored emojis, as many outcried that the emoji featuring a hand responsibly dropping keys actually looked like a pipe: emojis themselves are tiny and tough to decipher.
Thus far, the major usage of sponsored emojis is in conjunction with events. One of Twitter’s unrivaled strengths is to offer brands and consumers a platform to communicate in real-time. Whereas conventional emojis’ main value is adding a nuanced feeling not typically communicated through text, sponsored emojis reward users with an unexpected visual surprise when talking about a certain trending event or topic, which feels much like finding little Easter eggs. Thus, sponsored emojis are another way to enhance conversations occurring with and about brands; when people were vocally discussing the implications of Starbucks’ revised Red Cup in November (whether for good or bad), the brand made their topic further visible by purchasing a #RedCups sponsored emoji. The downfall of communicating in true real-time with sponsored emojis is that they’re only visible when a topic or event is trending on Twitter. However, combined with larger ad buys, there is great potential to enrich conversations and ensure that the consumer’s experience is holistically engaging.
While, in general sponsored emojis are fun, the question remains if they’re adding value for brands or consumers. At this point, the only brands who are running sponsored emojis are some of Twitter’s largest advertisers with enormous budgets, and only use them as another way to embellish existing campaigns or further popularize what would already be trending events or topics. While the analytics can show how many times a brand’s emojis are used, mentioned or seen, emojis as an advertising device are complex and prove difficult to decipher user sentiment. Without being able to target specific segments, brands lose the ability to extract valuable success measurement data. Further, sponsored emojis are only visible within the Twitter ecosystem and are short-lived. While they may be ‘fun,’ is such engagement addressing business goals? I’d venture to say not.