Generation X turned the word “fun” into a broadly used adjective. Baby Boomers mainstreamed terms like “hippie.” The Missionary Generation (born 1860 to 1882) gave us “fan.” Looking even farther back, the Transcendental Generation (born 1792 to 1821) mainstreamed their own slang word, one we still very commonly use today: “OK.” Before it mainstreams as Scrabble-accepted terminology, slang is often born out of necessity, of needing new words to describe things that didn’t previously exist. In that sense, the aforementioned words, now commonplace, are no different than words like “meme,” “jeggings” and “photobomb” – all of which were added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2015.

A representative from Merriam-Webster, Associate Editor and Lexicographer Kory Stamper, recently spoke at an intriguingly titled Chicago Ideas Week talk: “What Would Shakespeare Tweet?” which covered, as one might guess, the evolution of languages. Stamper used the analogy of a river to describe the English language: an endless amount of sources converge together to compose one large, diverse and fluid language. A million different subcultures feed into the river, and it’s up to lexicographers to scoop the most widely used words out of the water and define them. According to Stamper, the way a culture speaks is a part of who they are, and they shouldn’t be ashamed of vocabulary such as youth speak – it is, after all, a strongly flowing part of the figurative river of language.

Today’s cultural jargon is heavily influenced by the fast-paced, instant-gratification society in which we live. In fact, abbreviations like “WTF” and “NSFW” were also additions to the Merriam-Webster dictionary this year. As the Mintel Trend FSTR HYPR explores, time is of the essence and because consumers are communicating more rapidly, brands should be doing so, too.

Emojis are popular because they allow for time-saving communication & universal comprehension

Similar to shortened words, emojis are quickly becoming a mainstream form of language. As highlighted in Eye Get It – one of Mintel’s four key consumer trends set to impact markets across North America in 2016 – emojis are popular because they allow for time-saving communication and universal comprehension. According to a linguistics expert from Bangor University in Wales, they are, in fact, the fastest-growing form of language – ever.

To use Stamper’s analogy, emojis are flowing into the river of our collective language – validation for brands who are seizing the opportunity to incorporate this form of language into their communications just as individuals have:

  • Norwegian Airlines has created an emoji web address to encourage Danish Millennials to fly to Las Vegas. Users can access the site by entering a plane emoji, a slots emoji and a flying dollar bill emoji into the URL field.
  • In France, Nescafé has created an app that installs a whole keyboard of Nescafé-themed emojis to consumers’ smartphones. To announce the app, the brand created a campaign centered around the adventures of some of its emoji coffee cups in a playful campaign. 
  • Customers can now have food delivered to them on demand in New York by tweeting an emoji with food delivery app, Fooji. Fooji selects meals from the neighborhood’s top restaurants each week so consumers don’t have to choose. For instance, if a person were to tweet a pizza, there’s no way of telling whether the pizza will be with thin crust or have pepperoni. The app will then deliver the food to consumers for $15 per meal.
  • Boston-based start-up Inmoji lets people text branded logo emojis in exchange for various products or goodies. For instance, friends can be texting one another deciding where to meet for coffee, and by deciding on Starbucks and using the Inmoji, they can receive a special coupon for an in-store offering. It has signed up brands like Starbucks, Walmart and Fandango in an effort to enhance brand engagement and connect customers with location-based offers, product discovery, loyalty programs, and more.

Although emojis are now part of our language, they might seem mystifying still to some people. That’s the reasoning behind one restaurant chain stepping in to connect the languages of words and images:

  • Michigan-based Domino’s Pizza has launched a line of emoji flashcards to help improve emoji literacy worldwide. The 52 flashcards are designed to help people speak and understand the emoji language. Consumers will be able to order the cards to their homes; they are also available as a free PDF download.

At the “What Would Shakespeare Tweet?” talk, Stamper closed by urging the audience to keep making new words. After all, they are genuine reflections of our culture, and any of the bits of language we come up with – be it a ridiculous word, an existing word shortened by our need for speed or even an emoji – could be the next “OK.” And it could originate from any one person – or even from a brand.

To find out more about Mintel Trends and how they impact your market, click here.

Stacy Glasgow is a Consumer Trends Consultant at Mintel. Stacy joined Mintel in 2013 bringing with her an exciting blend of CPG, agency and marketing experience. Her time is spent traveling the US engaging clients across global CPG, Beauty and Financial Services in meaningful discussions around the consumer trends that will propel their businesses forward.