Researching Emoji

Emoji are ubiquitous, sometimes annoying, sometimes fun and generally impossible to ignore. There are more than 2,700 official emoji in use. A recent iOS update added 70 new emoji characters. Almost everyone uses emoji, including marketers. Despite their popularity, little research has been done on their impact on communication. 

Marketing faculty Hillary Wiener and Ioannis Kareklas researched the influence of emoji on consumer reactions to advertising. Wiener explained that emoji have positive value as a universal language. She said, “They facilitate communication and increase positive interactions.”

The research, to be published in the March 2019 issue of the Journal of Business Research, looked at emoji effect on emotional versus rational purchases. They compared emoji use alongside text touting the functional attributes of a camera, with emoji alongside text highlighting the emotional attributes of a camera, such as “fun to use.”

They found that a smiley face is not a marketing panacea. An emoji will not sell a stapler, not because no one has created a stapler emoji, but because a stapler is not a fun purchase. It is a purely utilitarian product. Emoji are more effective in selling hedonic products, stuff you buy for enjoyment such as jewelry, flowers, perfume and clothes. They are not necessarily luxury products, but purchases in which a consumer cannot explain why s/he chooses one item over another. Advertisements for a camera, when framed as a hedonic product, benefit from the addition of emoji, an ad focusing on the features does not.

Gift giving is hedonic. Wiener said that emoji lead to a higher level of positive affect, otherwise known as happiness. She explained that this positive affect leads to increased purchase intentions. She said, “Gifts tend to be more hedonic. People are excited about buying gifts.” Kareklas added, “The positive affect from emoji puts the gift-giver in the right frame of mind.”

Emoji may make us happy enough to follow through on a purchase. Happy shopping! 🎅