A few weeks ago, I was standing at a McDonald’s counter waiting to place my order when I noticed a few things. The “men” and “women” signs on the restroom doors had been replaced by lively stick figure icons of a boy and a girl. As I turned around to grab a napkin, I discovered the word “trash” on the garbage flapper had also turned icon. But the clincher was when I spotted a McDonald’s billboard along the side of the road that relayed its message without the use of a single word – just a series of simple emoticons intended to make passersby salivate for fries.
It’s amazing how the continued evolution of technology – particularly the adoption of smartphones and tablets – is changing communications. Sure, the Olympics incorporated iconography back in 1964 to help the masses identify and understand the various sporting events. But that little smiley face emoji at the end of a text message has turned the communications world on its head by spawning a globally recognizable language in our connected age.
"four in five 18–to-65-year-olds use emojis on a regular basis, while 72 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds find it easier to express emotion through emojis than the written word."
That has opened the door to a world of opportunity for brands looking to carry their message beyond borders, engage people with their products and services, and elevate the consumer experience. According to a recent story by PRWeek, four in five 18–to-65-year-olds use emojis on a regular basis, while 72 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds find it easier to express emotion through emojis than the written word.
Several brands have embraced emoticon mania, including Chevrolet, which recently claimed “words alone could not describe the new 2016 Chevy Cruze.” So the auto manufacturer created an all-emoji media release to reach its primarily millennial audience.
Coca-Cola made a big splash with its “Share A Coke” campaign, but it has already taken things to a new level in Southeast Asia by replacing words with – you guessed it – emoticons. Check it out.
But that’s only part of the story. While Coca-Cola was at it, the brand decided to give emoticons a voice in China – through its product and popular music.
"From billboards and websites to smartphones and digital apps, icons are used more and more as the boundaries of communities and nations become less defined by space, time and physical interaction."
The emoticon language and the accelerated swapping of written language for visual symbols in mass communications continues to be game changing. From billboards and websites to smartphones and digital apps, icons are used more and more as the boundaries of communities and nations become less defined by space, time and physical interaction.
Consistency, form and function still go a long way in determining communications success, regardless of medium. People are the ultimate factor in the adoption or rejection of visual elements based on how we respond, interact, and use them in our day-to-day lives. The fact that consumers and brands alike are finding ways to make them work on a global level marks a significant shift in the marketing communications landscape.
What examples have you seen that have worked or failed?