business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

There’s just no escaping emojis, those small digital smiley faces, frowns and symbols used to express an idea or emotion in texting, tweeting and other electronic communication.

Consider these recent developments:

• The Washington Post this week unveiled mascot emojis for all 68 teams in the NCAA Basketball tourney for fans to download and share – “Because nobody uses their words anymore.”

• A Taco Bell-led petition to have the taco added to the official Unicode Consortium of emojis has garnered more than 30,000 signatures.

• Apple made headlines announcing it was updating its lineup of emoji characters with a diverse skin color palette.

• Coca-Cola Puerto Rico is using happiness emojis in URL-addresses to lead consumers to its site.

• The mint-maker Mentos launched its own branded “ementicons” -- Cute Crazed and Awkward are among the names available for downloading.

• Ikea created 100 emojis, including one of its signature Swedish meatballs.

• Even the White House used emojis in its Council of Economic Advisors report on the status of Millennials across the nation.

In short, emojis aren’t just for text-obsessed teens anymore. And all the more reason retailers, marketers and service providers need to understand and embrace the role of emojis in social media.

According to Swyft Media, 41.5 billion messages and 6 billion emoticons or stickers are sent around the world every day on mobile messaging apps. Some 1,500 emojis have been standardized by the Unicode Consortium, a software industry body which includes representatives from Google, Apple, Microsoft and Yahoo.

The consortium announced it has accepted 37 new emoji characters to be released in mid-2015 and was considering others. Not surprisingly, food and drink items were seven of the eight most-popularly requested emoji: hot dog, taco, burrito, bottle with popping cork, popcorn, turkey and cheese wedge. The eighth was a unicorn face.

And it’s no surprise that Taco Bell is spearheading the “Taco Emoji Needs to Happen” campaign through a petition on and on Facebook and Twitter.

The petition asks: “Why do pizza and hamburger lovers get an emoji but taco lovers don’t. Here’s a better question. Why do we need four different types of mailboxes? Or 25 different types of clocks? Or a VCR tape and floppy disk emoji? No one even uses those things anymore.”

Valid point. Especially the Millennials, now aged 18 to 33, who grew up with new technology and are characterized by what the Pew Research Center calls their “fervent embrace” of all things digital.

And any brand that wants to engage with Millennials must do so digitally and learn to speak their language – including the use of emojis when warranted. As noted in a previous column, Hershey got slammed on social media recently for unveiling a new logo which looked quite a bit like the “pile of poo” emoji – a similarity that a Millennial would notice immediately.

The venerable investment giant Goldman Sachs also took some online ribbing earlier this month for sending out an emoji-filled tweet on its insightful report on how Millennials’ life choices will reshape the economy. The Wall Street Journal teased Goldman for “acting like an awkward grandparent who’s just learning to text.”

I’m not advocating forsaking the written word for emojis when connecting with consumers, but I do think brands need to be conversant in all forms of social media to stay competitive, and particularly when reaching out to Millennials.

That said, I think I will turn to the Washington Post March Madness mascot emojis for inspiration as I complete my NCAA bracket. While Kentucky is the odds-on tourney favorite, my fave emoji is the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s fire-breathing dragon.

Go Blazers.

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