It’s no secret the best marketing is based on storytelling. Throughout the course of human history, we’ve been fascinated by stories—from cave paintings to the Bible to sitcoms on the telly and now to… emojis, the modern child of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

According to The Drum, Emoji is the fastest growing language with 80% of Brits using symbols to communicate. An increasingly popular form of messaging, four in 10 people report having sent messages composed entirely of emojis, and millennials and Gen Z-ers are the fastest adopters.

The universality of pictures can transcend language barriers making messages easily recognisable and understandable. Throw in emojis’ appeal to youth culture, and brands have a language to communicate with the hottest market across the world.

McDonald’s, famous for jumping on trends, executed its emoji-driven “Good Times” campaign in the UK and really got it right. After realising together the emojis tell a story, you can quickly piece together the messages to make sense. This allows for that wonderfully interactive gap-closure at a fast pace.

You have the woeful tale of someone waiting in loads of traffic and sobbing and then going to McDonald’s, which makes everything better. There’s the story of the extreme sorrow caused by a smartphone’s fall into the toilet, but again, fries from McDonald’s remedies the grief. The whole idea of the campaign is to show the power of the Happy Meal to transform any horrible moment into a happy one.

However, there is also the chance an emoji campaign can go horribly wrong. Take Above the Influence, an American organisation encouraging teens to lead a drug-free lifestyle, which just released an emoji ad campaign. Unfortunately, they didn’t quite get it right.

Amanda Roberts, copywriter on the campaign said, “We knew we wanted to be on a peer-to-peer level, so let’s do something in their [teen] language.” The campaign goes wrong though, by using verbal sounds of the emojis to string a sentence together rather than using them as glyphs to represent a concept. The result is a choppy sentence instead of a seamless story.

For example, the emoji series of eyes, 1, and ant fuse into “i want,” and the Italian flag and a gas tank (fuel) translates to “it feels.” The campaign claims it speaks in fluent emoji to the teen audience, but the organisation fails to understand how emojis actually work. The gap closure is too great and the ads are nearly incomprehensible. The tagline of the campaign is “not everyone gets it.” Actually though, it seems those not “getting it” are those at the organisation, which means their audience won’t “get” the ads.

Emojis are a fun, fresh and relevant way to tell a brand story, but only if used correctly. Can you figure out what the post image is trying to say?

Photo by Allison Penn/CC BY 4.0