There’s no denying the fact that there have been situations in our lives when emojis provided a more fitting response than words. Be it a simple “thank you" or that time you are in an intense argument with someone, emojis have always been a better way of communicating your feelings. In fact, ahead of World Emoji Day, Facebook revealed that more than 700 million emojis are used on posts on the social network daily and more than 900 million emojis are sent without accompanying text every day on Messenger.

Looking back in time

Although the word “emoji" bears a coincidental resemblance to “emoticon," an amalgation of “emotion" and “icon," the roots of the word lie in the Japanese words -- “e" which means picture and “moji" which means character. Emojis originated on Japanese telecom company DoCoMo’s i-mode mobile internet platform in 1999. Founder Shigetaka Kurita cited weather forecast symbols and Manga as his inspiration in an interview with CNN.

By 2011, emojis became increasingly popular in the western world, thanks to Apple. Apple wanted to crack the Japanese market with its first iPhone in 2007, and knowing the popularity of emojis in Japan, it supported Japanese telecom provider J-Phone’s (now SoftBank) emoji set. It hid the emoji keyboard inside early iPhone handsets sold in North America, but tech-savvy users found a way to force their iPhones to unlock the keyboard by simply downloading a Japanese-language app. Soon, other mobile OS makers followed suit.

The inspiration for emojis came from weather forecast symbols and Manga
The inspiration for emojis came from weather forecast symbols and Manga

The power of an emoji

Since a single pictograph holds the power of expression, it has been utilised several times to make a cultural statement. The Apple iOS 6 update featured a gay and lesbian couple holding hands amid the usual emoji characters, including heterosexual couples, monkeys and dancing girls. Not only that, following much criticism for not having enough racial diversity in emojis, Apple introduced multicultural emoji sets with a variety of skin tones in its iOS 8.3 update.

In 2016, when Gun Control Laws were a hot topic in the US election campaign, Apple and other tech companies, including Google and Microsoft, voted against including the rifle emoji in their sets. Ironically, a pistol emoji endured after the rifle was removed, till it was replaced with a green water gun in the iOS 10 release.

Issues like gender diversity also prevailed in the emoji world as there were no female counterparts to a lot of emojis. To address this, Apple redesigned more than 100 emoji characters in its iOS 10 release to promote gender diversity.

The marketing world is also emoji-fied

Apart from cultural statements, emojis have also played a big role in marketing trends. An article published on Taylor and Francis Online states that when we look at a smiley, the same parts of the brain are activated as when we look at a human face. Our mood changes and we even alter our facial expressions to match the emotion of the emoticon.

Marketers have increased customer engagement by exploiting this insight. According to Leanplum, a mobile marketing trend website, the use of emojis has led to an increase in “open" rates of email and push notifications as well as an increase in app retention rates. After analyzing 300 million messages between 2017 and 2018, Leanplum reported that emails with emojis saw a 66% rise in “open" rates and push notifications 254%.

The most popular emojis used by retail marketers were celebratory emojis like party hats, firecrackers, gold stars and hi-fives.

Next wave of emojis

After Apple introduced Animojis in 2017, all the major smartphone manufacturers have followed up with their own interpretation of an augmented reality version of the emoji. While these are not as popular as the traditional emojis, they might not be far from catching up, given the recent push on AR.

Using Animoji and its rivals is an active process that requires you to actually move muscles of your face, so it may result in more engagement. And since the AR cousin of emojis is still recent, it’s yet to be seen how big an impact these will have on society. Creative implementations of Animojis are also yet to be discovered and brands have to figure out how to use them to boost sales.

For now, the silly yellow face is here to stay.

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