Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

As marketers continue to grapple with how to communicate with younger markets – millennials and Generation Z specifically – more and more do’s and don’ts come to the fore.

In an article published on Media Update, Michelle Jones, head of content at Rogerwilco, recently warned marketers against using emojis when communicating with the younger markets. She says emojis come across as inauthentic to millennials and Generation Z, with the result that they are unlikely to engage with brands that use them.

Specialist agency HDI Youth Marketeers recently conducted research on the topic of emojis among the members of the company’s Junior Board of Directors. “We spoke to our board, which is made up of sharp-thinking kids, teens and young adults (with 12 on each board) and they all agreed that brand communication must always be authentic and that there are definite rules around when and how to use emojis,” reports MD Catherine Bothma.

The use of emojis to communicate with the youth market is probably overdone, says Bothma. She adds that the days of what she calls “emoji madness” have passed their sell-by date, but that’s not to say they can’t be used at all. “Context is key, as is the consideration of whether emojis fit in with the brand’s persona. Youth is all about authenticity,” she cautions. For example, the younger generation points out that a bank using emojis to communicate with it just doesn’t sit right (rather like your grandmother trying to fit in). However, a brand that has a more quirky personality – Nando’s, for example – could get away with it.

It seems that brands should be guided by “emoji etiquette”. It’s how emojis are used that is key. By all accounts, using one smiley face is ok, but more than that and you’re trying too hard.

Brands want to create emotional connections with their consumers, regardless of their age. With this in mind, shouldn’t the rule of thumb always be to use language that is relevant and authentic to the brand and the context? Bothma says there is generally a fine line between what is and is not appropriate, and effective communication is characterised by this balance.

Marketing ideas usually have a three-month life span, after which it is felt that brands start to bombard their audience with too much of whatever that idea was – and this could well be true in the case of emojis as well. “But there is a time and place for everything,” Bothma says.

Reamogetse Motsepe, HDI’s PR coordinator, adds a final point: “Brands should never try too hard to be cool. Your ‘cool’ should come naturally – youth can see right through desperate attempts and won’t like you for it. Also, remember that this market changes all the time – something it [enjoyed] yesterday may not have the same effect today.”

The big take-out: According to HDI, there is no definitive rule about whether younger markets like or dislike the use of emojis in brand communication. Context and brand relevance are what matter.

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