I recently received an email from my credit union sharing the great news that mortgage rates had dropped and it’s a perfect time to look at refi options. They used emojis at the beginning of the subject line, but the ones they included made me pause.

Why? Here’s what they chose:

Emojis from email

In my opinion, this looks like bad news will follow. However, after reading the headline juxtaposed with the emoticons, I realized this was an attempt at humor. Maybe it’s just my love of all that is old school, but I miss the classic emoticons. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

There are over 3,000 emojis and they’ve become an integral part of our vernacular and social media marketing. In fact, they’re the fastest growing language in history.

That said, I got to ruminating about the differences between “decoding” emoticons and “reading” them. One emoji I can “read.” More than one? Decoding comes into play. A string of emojis are like words in a sentence, but on steroids. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Since everyone translates images differently, should digital marketers and social media managers start watching their language?

Emoticon Fails in Digital Marketing

A common reason for #EmojiFail? Botched attempts at intergenerational communication.

For example, when Chevy tried to reach the millennial generation via a press release (that’s a whole different problem entirely) they “wrote” it entirely in emoticons – and it was a long press release (another different problem entirely). 🚗 (car) 💥 (collison)

Adding insult to injury, they created a hashtag to announce it: #ChevyGoesEmoji. Why did they do it? According to Craig Daitch, Chevy’s senior manager for social media, “Because emoji is international in its adoption, we wanted to have fun and be irreverent with our audience.”

The social media results? A 71% positivity engagement rating and celebrities sharing almost 5,000 retweets! So, was it worthwhile? Chevy missed the mark. 40 percent of users were under 17 years old – the majority of whom aren’t ready to purchase cars. Who did they reach? Those interested in affinity topics “relevant to public relations such as sales, advertising, and communications.” Of course, Chevy isn’t the only company to miss the mark.

Is Your Social Media Scream Getting Lost in Translation?

Did you know that the popular “scream” emoji (😱) was inspired by Edvard Munch’s well-known painting The Scream (1893)? It is the 53rd most commonly used emoji. The emoticon is no longer just for expressing fear or horror. It’s now conveys excitement, awe, and disbelief.

When I saw this emoji in the email from my credit union, I thought about the meaning behind the painting (I was raised by artists). Whereas my credit union was most likely thinking “WOW! THIS IS AWESOME NEWS!” In fact, the subject line literally starts with “WOW.” I thought, “Wow, this is really bad news.”

The disconnection I felt from the email was definitely a generational one – I’m Gen X. This is when I tip back the old Barcalounger, put my hands behind my head, and remind those marketing to my demographic that Gen X:

  • Knows what a Barcalounger is
  • Didn’t grow up using cell phones
  • Remembers when there wasn’t the “internet machine”
  • Thought social media meant yelling across a room
  • Is nostalgic and brand loyal
  • Feels overlooked by marketers

And, hey, we have purchasing power.

Spellcheck Your Emoticons Before You Market

Put on your happy face – here are some terrific ways to ensure you’re hitting your marketing mark, creating a conversation, and reaching your target demographic.

  1. Emojis are not words. Emoticons are the “emotional parts of communication.” So, treat them like that! A heart is a heart, a smile is a smile, and a scream and a sad face are a scream and a sad face. Keep them in context.
  2. Never assume. Don’t make assumptions about your target audience like Chevy (and other companies) did (and do) with millennials. I.e. Millennials must like emojis – so we’re gonna emoji the heck out of this email!
  3. Emote where it counts. Consider your emoji choices based on your marketing platforms. Instagram is an emoji wonderland, but press releases? Um, no.
  4. You be you. You don’t have to follow the crowd! Develop your own emoji best practices and how they relate to your brand and company goals. Meaning, you don’t have to “scream” to be heard.
  5. Google it. Do some meaningful research, especially if you’re marketing globally. Here’s a newsworthy item, “the ‘rock on’ emoji, for example, while harmless in the United States, is a hand gesture that suggests an unfaithful wife in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Colombia. The waving-hand emoji, a simple “hello” in the United States, can mean you are no longer friends in China.”

Looking for inspiration? You should watch The Emoji movie. It’s seriously great (and I was a film major, so you can trust me). The best part? When the old school emojis walk across the street. Check out the trailer.

Have a❓🙋 about how to freshen up your social media marketing strategy? Contact us. We can help tell your story the 👍 way.