Do you remember life before emoji? The jolly Japanese icons invaded Western messaging platforms just about five years ago. And yet, a life without them seems almost inconceivable at this point. How did we ever survive without this modern form of expression? 😱 Despite the popularity of emojis (or perhaps because of it), some people are starting to ask the opposite question: how will humanity ever survive with these cute little icons? Here's what Jonathan Jones, an art critic at The Guardian, has to say:
“After millennia of painful improvement, from illiteracy to Shakespeare and beyond, humanity is rushing to throw it all away. We’re heading back to ancient Egyptian times, next stop the Stone Age, with a big yellow smiley grin on our faces.”
Does he have a point? Are emojis making us lazy? Some linguists believe it’s not that bad: “Far from replacing language, the visual symbols in fact enhance our ability to converse with one another.” Others claim that we are increasingly using images instead of words, at the cost of our vocabulary.
To find out whether emojis could eventually replace language, Fred Benenson initiated a literary experiment. He crowdsourced 800 people to complete the the Herculean task of translating Herman Melville’s Moby Dick into picture icons. The book, which sells for $200, is called 'Emoji Dick, or: 🐳'
If our use of emojis means a return to the Stone Age, at least we’ll be cavemen with smartphones. So why not embrace humanity’s downfall? Let’s see how we can use emojis to our advantage.
Grabbing attention in a full inbox
Getting people to click articles, open newsletters, scroll further down the page, and swipe on push notifications has been a challenge to digital marketeers since day one. The web is full of strategies that explain how to win users’ attention with the curiosity gap. Likewise, every newsletter you receive has probably been A/B tested with different subject lines to find the one you’ll be most likely to open.
MailChimp, a popular email marketing platform, started supporting emojis in email subject lines in 2015. In a blog post, they explain why: “With screen sizes getting smaller, senders of email need to be able to pack more information and emotion into shorter messages. Emojis are great at this.”
Since then, email marketeers have started to play around with emojis in their newsletters. Here’s a sample of subject lines from an ordinary inbox:
- Pitchfork: 😱 ￼Pitchfork Music Festival Announces Full 2017 Lineup 😱
- 24Bottles: Back to the Summer of '87 ￼🌈 Meet the NEW limited edition by 24Bottles!
- ￼Benedict Evans: 💫 Benedict's Newsletter: No. 199
- PandaDoc: WARNING: This email contains pandas doing cute things 🐼
- Zalando:⚡SALE ⚡Discounts up to 60%
These emoji headlines certainly stand out among the monochrome of regular emails, but do they result in higher opening rates? Are emojis more than just a gimmick? Let’s have a look at the numbers.
Emojis outperform both text and images
Recent research by Leanplum and App Annie shows that when push notifications contain emojis, opening rates increase by 85 percent compared to notifications with only text. Furthermore, their data indicated that emojis could even beat images. In an A/B test by design app Cava, push notifications using emojis outperformed those with photographs by 9 percent.
As always, the explanation is psychological: “Scientists have discovered that when we look at a smiley face online, the same parts of the brain are activated as when we look at a real human face. Our mood changes, and we might even alter our facial expressions to match the emotion of the emoticon.”
Use emojis with care
The effects of emojis may change over time. When you’re one of the few who’s using hearts and flowers in subject lines, you’ll probably stand out. But what happens when more companies start sending out big yellow grins? Will consumers eventually get tired of emojis?
Furthermore, what works in one country may not work in another. It’s not without reason that emojis originated in Japan, a place where all police departments have mascots. Widespread acceptance of emojis could be much lower in less playful cultures.
Like any innovation, emojis offer new opportunities. If they can help us reach a wider audience, why not run some test? If you believe emojis can fit your brand, give them a shot. Experiment. But keep it relevant, and don’t overdo it.
Remember: you don’t want to be the person that pushed humanity back into the Stone Age.