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Dell employed them for back-to-school marketing, Ford used them to promote its latest Focus model, and Domino's has invested in them to revolutionize its pizza-ordering process. Emojis are transforming digital communication, but beyond occasionally measuring engagement with their own branded digital hieroglyphics, marketers still haven't determined how best to gauge emojis as part of the larger social media conversation.
When Ford Motor Co. ran a branded emoji campaign in conjunction with mobile platform Swyft Media, the automaker generated 25,000 downloads of its Ford Focus digital stickers each day for 10 days in September. Those downloads led to 40,000 shares of those branded images via messaging platforms each day, totaling more than 1 million impressions, according to Swyft. The stickers, which can be shared in apps including Facebook Messenger and Twitter, feature images of Ford Focus automobiles coupled with phrases such as "Let's Go!" and "Drive Safe!"
Advertisers including Universal Studios and Dell have also worked with Swyft, which develops branded emojis and stickers for dissemination in messaging, dating and photo-editing platforms. The brands measure their image-based campaigns according to metrics such as downloads, shares, impressions, total hours engaged and "viral rate." Total hours engaged refers to the amount of time people spend browsing through a brand's set of emojis and stickers, or actually including them in messages.
"That's very different than impressions," said Evan Wray, co-founder of Swyft, which distributes marketers' branded content through ad units in apps including messaging apps Kik and Viber.
When measuring viral rate, Swyft tracks the number of times per download an emoji or branded image was passed along. For instance, when Dell's back-to-school emojis were available earlier this year, the images were shared with an average of eight people per download, said Mr. Wray.
Beyond their branded images, measuring the impact of emojis could be as simple as considering the addition of a smiley face or frown to an otherwise-ambiguous comment, said Mr. Wray. If a smiley face is present, it's probably a positive statement. "That's pretty straightforward and also easy to track," he said.
When Nike introduced its Language of Football sticker pack for Facebook Messenger and emoji keyboard for its Nike Football app last year, the goal was to offer a relevant way for European football players to express themselves during the FIFA World Cup, said Duan Evans, exec creative director at AKQA, which developed the effort with Nike. "We saw an opportunity for Nike to create a bespoke set of football emojis that reflected the behavior of football players the world over, and help fuel the conversation with a visually rich and fun set of emojis," he said.
For Domino's, emojis are becoming an integral part of its core business—selling pizzas. Once they've registered a "Pizza Profile" in the text-based Anyware ordering system introduced in June, Domino's customers can order their go-to pies for delivery using the phrase "Easy Order." At the same time as the text order launch, though, Domino's made its even simpler emoji-based ordering available: The system registers a customer's order when she texts an image of a pepperoni pizza slice to DPIZZA.
Ordering sans words is taking off. According to Domino's, among those using the texting order system, people use the pizza emoji to call in their food requests four times more often than texting the phrase "Easy Order."
"This wasn't just a marketing campaign," said Dennis Maloney, the company's chief digital officer. "We're creating an ordering platform."
"There's definitely something about the campaign which is resonating with our consumers. The emojis are part of our collective language now," Mr. Maloney said. "It is not just a bunch of funny symbols. People are actually giving them credence."
As it counts the dollars flowing in from pizzas ordered by emojis, Domino's has yet to delve deeply into the data insights that could arise. However, Mr. Maloney said, "We've definitely seen a lot more of our conversations incorporate emojis. Part of that is driven by the fact that we're using emojis a lot in our campaigns, so it's a little bit of chicken and egg."
"Brands obviously are recognizing the power of emojis as a language, as a medium of communication," said Tony Clement, VP-analytics at independent shop Big Spaceship. Devising metrics to measure emojis in the same way they gauge text-based social discussions will become more and more important, but it won't be easy, he said.
"It's much more difficult to quantify" emojis or "put rigorous science behind tracking" them, Mr. Clement said. He said he plans all the same to develop a business case to present to clients that would benefit from a social measurement framework for emojis and branded images. The agency might start by testing which platforms specific emojis perform on best, or "which emotion resonates most with the most people at certain moments."
As use of emojis grows, brands need to rethink how they ingest and quantify data associated with them, he said.