UAlbany Study: ‘Emoji Marketing’ Has Positive Effect on Consumer Buying Behavior

Research Team Finds That Including Emoji in Ads for Hedonic Products Leads to Higher Purchase Intentions

The study was co-led by Hillary Wiener and Ioannis Kareklas, both assistant professors in the School of Business. Photos by Brian Busher. 

ALBANY, N.Y. (Dec. 4, 2018) – Apple’s iOS 12.1 brings more than 70 new emoji to the technology company’s latest iPhone.
Companies would be wise to take advantage of the new collection through their advertising efforts, especially during a holiday shopping season, according to a study led by the School of Business’ Hillary Wiener and Ioannis Kareklas.

The research team found that the presence of emoji in marketing communications leads to “increased positive affects among consumers, which in turn, leads to more favorable purchase intentions,” the study states.

In two investigations, Wiener and Kareklas analyzed the online behavior of 137 adults through a crowdsourcing internet marketplace as well as a sample of 169 graduate students.

Part of what makes the use of emoji a valuable marketing tool is because of the symbols’ capability to communicate human emotions beyond using words alone, said Hillary Wiener, an assistant professor of marketing.

“Emoji help facilitate communication, and thus increase positive interactions between the consumer and the product being marketed,” Wiener said.

Hedonic vs. Utilitarian Products

Another key finding from the study was that emoji are more effective when used in advertisements for “hedonic” rather than utilitarian (practical) products, according to Kareklas, an assistant professor of marketing.

In other words, emoji are better suited to help sell products that promise to satisfy the need for fantasy, aesthetics and pleasure.

“Customers tend to focus more on brand excitement and fun when considering the purchase of hedonic products. Using emoji in marketing communications for hedonic products increases positive affect, which subsequently incases the likelihood of purchase,” said Kareklas, who researches prosocial behavior and sensory perception. “For products that are designed to satisfy functional needs, such as convenience, quality and safety, customers attend much more to competence and credibility. We found that using emoji for promoting these types of products was not an effective strategy.”

Wiener said emoji would be particularly important for advertising campaigns during the holiday season, when a larger portion of shopping is dedicated to gift giving.

“Gifts tend to be more hedonic, and people are generally excited to buy others gifts,” she said. “The positive affect from emoji puts the gift-giver in the right frame of mind to be more influenced by an appealing ad.”

Wiener researches gift-giving, conversation and consumer psychology at UAlbany.

The study, “To Emoji or Not to Emoji? Examining the Influence of Emoji on Consumer Reactions to Advertising” will be published in March 2019 in the Journal of Business Research.

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