Emoji’s: There Ain’t No Free Lunch

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By: Stephen J Smith

In 1982 I was working as a writer and director of video-based education and marketing for NCR Corporation in Dayton, Ohio. The years spent observing the evolution of technology during the infancy of personal computing was incredibly rewarding – albeit stressful. I witnessed first-hand how the world of business and technology was changing in ways we could have never predicted.

emoticonAbout that same time — just a few hundred miles away in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, Professor Scott Fahlman posted the following message on a Carnegie Mellon’s online bulletin board

“I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: emoticon, Read it sideways.”

Although the post was meant to help highlight future communications that were humorous – I’m sure he never thought that the first modern “emoticon” would take the world by storm. In essence, Professor Fahlman likely thought this was an efficient way to give a little of himself and his amused emotions to his readers.

Today there are thousands of such characters used around the globe  – some “emoticonologists” even having gone through the expensive and time consuming process of copyrighting their work.

Dude, that was so yesterday.

smiling-emojiToday, the universe is captivated by the new kid on the block: The Emoji. According to Emojipedia.org, “there are as many as of 1,851 emoji characters supported on current platforms, up to and including Unicode 9.0.” And much like the emoticon, one company even trademarked the emoji name and several of the icons.

In fact, in 2015 the Oxford Dictionary christened Emoji as the Word of the Year, suggesting it “best reflected the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2015.”

But do these “free” characters that help you express your emotions exist for your own edification? No.

Unless you’re running a non-profit organization you are in business to make money. If you’re owned by shareholders, you have the fiduciary responsibility to provide a return on the investment they have made in your company. To that end, the old axiom, “there ain’t no free lunch” is equally true when it comes to free emojis.


What I have always admired about entrepreneurs  – is their creativity. Some look at problems as obstacles — entrepreneurs look at problems as opportunities. Thus enter the world of emojis and sentiment-analysis.

clinton-trump-with-emojisThis most recent presidential election provides an excellent example: Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were considered by some to be divisive and largely unpopular candidates. People either liked them or disliked them — there was little in between. However, at times neither “words” nor “thumbs”  could adequately express one’s feeling toward a candidate. However, with the addition of the “sad,” “shocked” and “angry” emojis – users of social media could read a post or article and better express their feelings. They were no longer limited to  thumbs up or thumbs down.

That may seem meaningless to most of us. However, if you are marketing to a demographic that all seem the same on Facebook, an “angry” emoji says much more about a person than a simple downward thumb. From a marketing perspective, it can change the way an advertiser markets to that person today and tomorrow.

New organizations such as Zoomph, Swyft,  Snaps and Emoji are using technology and psychology to overcome outdated digital ad measurements on emojis, GIFs and stickers.  Although the emoji movement was largely launched through messaging apps – where the use of emojis is commonplace – advertisers were limited as to how to leverage emojis to better understand each user.

teen-textingFor example: There are well over  a billion messaging app users – many of whom are young and who are exceedingly engaged, but traditional mobile marketing methods won’t work.

Through sentiment-analysis platforms such as Emoji,  consumers can now rate ads, images, movies, candidates and anything that can be seen, heard or experienced. That same information, Digital Tattoo i.e. how you feel about certain articles, products, people, politics, places, religion, etc.

In the case of the Emogi Company’s strategy, they create analytics centered on specific emojis which are used to construct and grow audiences. For example: Users that click a smiley-face in response to an ad, article or image are now excellent targets for follow-up messages. The same would be true for an angry or sad face.

So the question of the day for all of you social media enthusiasts is:

Why did Facebook and other social media platforms increase the amount of emoji’s for your use?

  1. To add to the aesthetics of your timeline
  2. To help you express your sentiments to your friends
  3. Because with emoji’s you don’t have to be a good speller
  4. Because advertisers and marketers can profit by better understanding your emotions regarding events, people, places, politics, pictures, religion, etc.
  5. Both 3 and 4

If you answered 5 you would be correct.

How the world has changed since 1982. I’m sure Professor Scott Fahlman didn’t realize that his humble, unpretentious emoticon 🙂 would evolve into the privacy-stealing, sentiment analyzer that we affectionately call the emoji. smiling-emoji

mad-2After all, who would think that by clicking an angry face you might be giving up a little bit of yourself to advertisers and marketing companies?
Those !@#$ entrepreneurs!


About Stephen J Smith


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