By LIZ MACLEAN
Heart eyes. Winky face. Poop. Emojis have become iconic since Apple added them to their keyboard in 2011, and now, over 1,600 emojis are available in the iPhone’s iOS 9.1. But emojis have taken a leap off the phone screen and can now be found smothering t-shirts in clothing stores and covering soda bottles in supermarkets.
When sophomore allied health major Allison Hoyos’ cousin Roberto Hoyos made an emoji pillow for his friend in 2007, Hoyos watched as this grew into a successful company called Throwboy, which claims to be the “original emoji pillow.” Soon, Throwboy pillows, which start at $19.99, were reaching customers across the US, and other companies emerged with similar designs. There are now hundreds of emoji pillows available in stores from Target to Amazon.
Hoyos sees people’s passion for emojis not just online, but also in her everyday life.
“My whole family, including myself, have purchased Roberto’s emoji pillows,” Hoyos said. “He sells the most popular emojis such as the kiss face, the heart eyes, the poop, and more. He also sells little pillow key chains as well, all including the same kind of emojis. I have the grin pillow.”
Advertisers from Pepsi, Schick, and Domino’s have caught onto the emoji craze and celebrities, companies, and even nonprofits are prospering from emoji popularity. Because of their popularity, emojis are being used to sell products, whether in advertisements or on the items themselves. Appboy, a mobile marketing automation that helps marketers use new technology to reach their customers, states that over the last 12 months, the number of campaigns using emojis has increased 777 percent and that emojis use has grown 20 percent each month in 2016.
This past February, Pepsi started their “Say It With Pepsi” campaign and released their own line of emojis plastered on the sides of soda bottles. Featuring over 200 different yellow faces, these soda bottles allow customers to download the emoji set onto their phones and send them in texts, social media posts, and emails. Pepsi even collaborated with Pizza Hut to make a soda-pizza combo that caught the attention of every American’s stomach. If found on a Pepsi bottle, the rare pizza emoji grants the customer a free pizza from Pizza Hut.
Besides Pepsi, many other companies joined in on emoji-marketing, including Etsy, which features hundreds of clothing items related to emojis, like socks, sweatshirts, hats and jewelry. A simple “emoji” search on the website provides a huge variety of products consisting of emoji invitations, hair bows, cupcake toppers, and pins (with a new exclusive taco emoji available).
“I think that emojis are such a big craze because they’re a quick way to get a message across, which is important in a world so focused on social media that is instant and constantly changing,” said Camille Santiago, who has been making and selling t-shirts with emojis on them since 2014. Laughing-crying, alien head, and ghost emojis are all featured on the simple yet expressive shirts that start at $11.
“This is my only job because I am a 17-year-old student,” said Santiago, who is based in San Diego, CA. “And in the last year or so, the emojis have really been what has kept my shop going; they are by far the most popular thing I sell.”
According to Neil Patel, entrepreneur and marketer, emojis make up almost half of the comments on Snapchat and Instagram. “75 percent of male and 84 percent of female respondents believe emojis are a better way to express their emotions than words,” Patel said on his website. “So, they’re helpful in setting your brand’s tone of voice.”
Appboy found that emoji use on Apple’s iOS has grown by 662 percent within the last year.
Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian have released their own lines of emojis. The “Kimoji” app, which launched in December 2015, is available in the iTunes store for $1.99. It’s now the number five entertainment app (the Ellen DeGeneres emoji app jumped ahead to number two, with the Moji Maker app being the number one paid Entertainment app).
Even nonprofits such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Dog Trust have started using this trend in communication. The WWF released 17 animal emojis on Twitter. Users can sign up to receive the emojis, and in turn, every time they tweet one, they are asked to donate 11 cents. At the end of the month, the WWF sends them a balance of how many emojis were tweeted, along with their donation. The announcement tweet that contained the 17 emojis received over 34,000 retweets, worldwide. This “cute-sells” tactic seemed to work on more than just Twitter, too.
Nan Shoenfelt produces and sells emoji leggings for $24 on Etsy.com. She is a math professor at a New Jersey college and produces leggings from her home during her free time. Shoenfelt began by making adult-sized leggings with the tongue-out emoji, the devil emoji, the heart emoji, and various others. Her leggings were so successful that parents requested she produce children’s sizes, too.
“I think the emoji craze comes from the fact that people often don’t communicate in person so much anymore,” Shoenfelt said. “Most communication, especially between young people, is by texting. The emoji is a way to communicate without writing out the words.”
Dr. Jennifer Burton, marketing professor at UT, agrees that emojis are a way for people to communicate pictorially, rather than verbally. “From a marketing perspective, [emojis] are taking off because of the convenience factor. We’re obsessed with expressing ourselves — that’s a basic human need to connect with others; it’s hardwired into us,” Burton said.
Dr. Devin Lunt, a marketing professor at UT, points out that companies are trying to connect with younger generations, as well as people who make use of new technology and social media.
“It’s something they’re comfortable with and they can identify with, and it’s part of their culture and their everyday lives,” Lunt said. “It’s something they can really embrace. The companies are making an effort to communicate in their way.”
Now marketers want to know if this emoji trend will fade out in a couple of months, just as the duckface, planking, and “Alex from Target” trends all have. Similar to Facebook, will emojis become another piece of technology that “‘old people” have ruined? “I don’t see any reason why right now it wouldn’t continue to be effective, especially as organizations learn more about how to use it effectively,” Lunt said.
Etsy shop owners, emoji pillow buyers, and marketing professors agree that emojis aren’t going anywhere, for now. “I think it’s going to last a while because it’s communication; it’s self-expression,” Burton said. “These are fundamental human needs. Communication isn’t going anywhere, so I think they’re here to stay.”
Liz MacLean can be reached at email@example.com.