A couple of weeks ago the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers found themselves in a bidding war over DeAndre Jordan, one of the most sought after NBA free agents this summer. Jordan was torn between a perennial playoff team in his home state (Dallas), and an exciting team that served as his home for the first seven seasons of his career (L.A.). Both teams rallied their troops: enthusiastic owners, championship-winning coaches and superstar players. The battle began on social media and the weapon of choice was the emoji.
— Chandler Parsons (@ChandlerParsons) July 8, 2015
— JJ Redick (@JJRedick) July 8, 2015
— Golden St. Warriors (@warriors) July 8, 2015
— Jordan (@Jumpman23) July 8, 2015
A flurry of emojis signaled that key players were on their way to Jordan to woo him on behalf of their respective teams. Chandler Parsons tweeted an airplane, JJ Redick a car, and on and on it went, eventually leading players on other teams to chime in with their emoji input. When the pixelated dust settled, teams, coaches and players had gotten in on the emoji battle and DeAndre Jordan remained a Clipper. Los Angeles won. I’m not saying that Jordan stayed with the Clippers because of emojis, but the situation shows that the little symbols have evolved into powerful linguistic tools that have even found their place in multi-million dollar sales pitches. This year, the NBA has been a showcase for the impact of emojis and other brands should take note.
The emoji got its start in Japan in the late 90’s, but it took off after being included as a language set on smart phones. What began as a simple smiley to a friend has grown into a robust language that lets us show rather than tell. They’ve become influential enough that Sony Pictures Animation just bought the rights to make an emoji movie. Designers are also creating custom emoji sets that cater to specific audiences. The biggest benefit is that there is no language barrier. A fan in China understood Chandler Parsons’ tweet as clearly as a fan in Dallas. Emojis are a perfect fit for a brand like the NBA whose goal is to expand their global reach. Brands should look at emojis as fun, playful ways to creatively engage their audiences.