From its humble beginnings as a basic set of icons in 1999, the emoji keyboard has become an essential enhancement to digital communication. Now, with over 2000 icons, the world’s first professional emoji translator and a seven figure price for a bespoke design, it is clear that their influence on communication is of value. But, how much do they influence language today and do they speak for themselves?

In 2015, the Oxford Dictionary’s ‘Word of the Year’ was the ‘face with tears’ emoji. The recognition could suggest that an emoji has the same equivalent to a word or phrase. Keith Broni, the first-ever emoji translator, explains that “[emojis] allow us to signify the emotional context of a statement, which would usually be conveyed in vocal tone, pose or gesture”.  So perhaps the playful icons communicate the missing elements in mobile and online conversation, rather directly translate the language.

“I believe brands need to be very conscious of how they use emojis as it’s very dependant on the consumer.” – Katherine Boxall

It is evident that whether they embellish a sentence or stand alone, emojis play a crucial role in communication and businesses have been quick to adapt. Today, an emoji offers an on-brand symbol for a business to use on social media; effectively spreading brand identity, awareness and making the business more relatable to consumers. Undoubtedly, the rise of social media has given many businesses virtual tangibility, so now, emojis are part of the process to humanise a brand.

On the matter, Katherine Boxall, the course leader for fashion management and marketing at the University for the Creative Arts, elaborates on the importance of brands being cautious of their choice of emojis. “I believe brands need to be very conscious of how they use emojis as it’s very dependant on the consumer. Communication potential of an emoji is definitely expressive, but not definite as emoji combinations can remain open to interpretation.” She also touches upon the difference in emoji translation across cultures as “what one gesture means in one country can mean an entirely different thing in another”. Essentially, the use of emojis by large brands such as Coke and Dove.. are crucial to identifying with their consumer, however, can be detrimental if not considered carefully across cultures. For instance, the “thumbs up” to express a ’like’ is internationally understood, yet, it is also traditionally an offensive symbol in the Middle East. The role of an emoji translators is, in fact, crucial to portraying a business, but also correctly.

It seems that with the involvement of brands, emojis are pushed beyond their use of existing in text messages. So how will these expressive icons evolve? It could be argued that due to social media increasingly becoming a vehicle for advertising, emojis will continue to represent brands. Unbelievably, Twitter adverts come at an outstanding ‘seven figure price’ for a bespoke emoji to sit alongside a Hashtag within a brand’s Twitter ad. Therefore, with such a high price placed upon the icons, it seems that the smileys aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

However, Boxall believes that emojis may merely be an introduction into how brands humanise themselves, as she elaborates, “…there is definitely a shelf life for them. I think brands will start to trail off using them and begin to look at alternative more innovative methods to engage consumers – it’s all part of the digital revolution. Already, luxury brands are using memes which are far more creative and intellectually stimulation both visually and artistically, which say far more about the brand and their consumer”.

We have already seen the evolvement of Instagram to host better quality videos and the widespread use of short animations and GIFs on Twitter, so perhaps moving image is the next phase of online sharing. Could the next embellishment of communication feature emojis as animated characters? Or, will the trend end?

Join Village Agency at Social Media Week this Wednesday at 4.35pm for their talk on the Evolution of Language. If you can’t make it, follow @wearevillage for all live updates