“Do you know your ๐Ÿ‘ from your ๐Ÿ‘Œ?

Over the last couple of decades, emojis have quickly crept into our everyday language.

While these emotive little symbols can add a bit of character to an otherwise dull text message to friends or family, brands must be careful not to confuse or offend their audience when using emojis in their marketing content.

To highlight just how tricky emojis can be to get right, Unbabel recently launched a lighthearted 11-question quiz for users to gauge their understanding of emoji use in different countries.ย 

“When branching into new markets, it’s important to consider how emojis can factor into your localization strategies,” said Sophie Vu, chief marketing officer of the San Francisco-based company specializing in artificial intelligence-powered language services. “No brand wants to inadvertently offend or insult the customers theyโ€™re trying to engage with, so assessments like these are a fun way to help brands understand whether or not their emojis mean what they think they do.”

Though the quiz is more of a fun way to pass the time than a serious assessment, it does touch on an important point: People donโ€™t always understand emojis in the way the emoji user expects them to. As MultiLingual reported last summer, even within the same culture, different generations have a tendency to use emojis differently โ€” while US members of Generation Z might perceive the โ€œ๐Ÿ™‚โ€ emoji as sarcastic and passive-aggressive in some contexts, older US English speakers typically think of it as a normal smiley face.

If this difference between baby boomers and zoomers in the US is big, differences across entire cultures can be even more jarring. Some businesses make avid use of emojis in their marketing contentโ€”from Dominoโ€™s Pizza to the Washington Post, companies often employ emojis in social media posts and marketing campaigns as an eye-catching tool that allows them to seem more relatable to their audience.

If youโ€™re targeting an audience in a new market, however, itโ€™s important to know what emojis could be offensive or confusing before incorporating them into your content โ€” for instance, as Unbabel noted in its announcement, the โ€œ๐Ÿ‘โ€ emoji, though innocuous in the US cultural context, can be perceived as offensive in Middle Eastern markets.

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Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

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