Emotions And Emoticons : A Marketer’s Friend

‘They, just like words, can sometimes say a lot’

Emoticons in their digital form were used for the first time by Scott Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a message on 19 September 1982. Since then, with time they have become an integral part of our digital experience. The most recent addition to this was on February 24th of last year, when Facebook replaced it’s like button with a set of six Emoticons.

Emoticons or emoji as we sometimes call them are those funny cartoon faces that seem to be ubiquitous throughout online experience now. They express the feeling, mood or the tone of the user. They, just like words, can sometimes say a lot. Emoji forms the non-verbal part of our communication. Studies by Psychologists have shown that emoticons trigger that exact part of the brain that gets triggered when we see or use an actual human expression.

Furthermore, these studies reveal that we are not born with these brain patterns. These gets developed as we grow and get exposed to the world of emoticons in the social media or otherwise.

Due to this ever-increasing prevalence of the emoticons and the psychological connect that we are developing with them, Emoticons have become a key factor of consideration for marketers. How a person ‘reacts’ to a particular brand engagement activity or the marketing campaign has become a new data point for the company which it can use to deduce important insights about how a particular user is perceiving about the brand. These individual data points can be collated together to form demographic group level insights. For example, the individual data points can be analysed to understand how an age group say from 20-30 years of age perceive the product or the brand or the campaign. Not only this, emoticons can be used by the marketers during their marketing engagement activities to create desired brand or product associations.

According to psychologists, once a product or brand is associated to an emotion (through the emoticon for that emotion), the same is expected to be reinforced in the future engagements. This can create very strong and desires brand perceptions in the customers.

Emoticons can also come very handy in marketing communications in specific and business communication in general. A very interesting feature of emoticons is that as there is no use of words or language in it, emoticons can convey the same message across boundaries of language, race, ethnicity etc.  Not only this, it even kills the boundary between literate and illiterate.

A lot of companies are already leveraging the power of emoticons. The recent ground activation by Pepsi with emoticon printed on the bottles is a very glaring example. Similarly, Coca-Cola in association with Twitter created a campaign in called ‘#Shareacoke’. The hashtag automatically converted itself into a branded emoji which was reportedly shared 1.7 Lakh times on the first day itself. Similar initiative also came from Taco Bell and Domino’s pizza

But there is also some amount of caution that marketers need to exercise while jumping into the emoticon fray. They have to be extremely careful in deciphering the information from the data. A push notification or a targeted marketing campaign based on each emoticon that one uses can be really painful. A senior executive of a famous FMCG brand has rightly said, “It’s all about the right context and the right timing”. Thus like any other great weapon, with a little bit of prudence emoticons can transform the way digital marketing happens.


About the Author:

Sourav Bhattacharya is a first-year student of Business Management at XLRI Jamshedpur.