Thought Bubble: Branded emoji

March 3, 2016
5 min read

Pepsi recently announced the roll-out of its emoji-clad packaging “Say It With Pepsi” campaign, which is slated to spread to more than 100 countries this summer. Here, Mintel Trends analysts discuss the opportunities and challenges brands face leveraging emoji in campaigns, specifically in Canada, the US and China.


Jenny Zegler, Global food and drink analyst

Pepsi’s expansion of the “Say It With Pepsi” campaign to the US and 100+ global markets in 2016 taps into current trends in pop culture and communication. The campaign began in 2015 in Canada with a proprietary range of emojis on packages as well as a downloadable PepsiMoji smartphone keyboard containing 35 designs, including Pepsi-related icons and several emotional faces.

Launched in time for the popular carbonated soft drink consumption season of summer, the “Say It With Pepsi” campaign in Canada attempted to add excitement to a category that is increasingly facing a negative stigma regarding its health effects. Carbonated soft drinks are considered to be a “treat” by 61% of Canadian consumers, according to Mintel’s report Carbonated Soft Drinks Canada 2014. This indication of only occasional consumption is reflected in the category’s declining volume sales in many markets, including Canada.

Pepsi’s conversational graphics may inspire more consumption occasions, though, by helping consumers express their emotions. As explored in Mintel’s 2016 North American Consumer Trend Eye Get It, emoji can be used to save time, but 60% of US adults agree using images is a way to express feelings that are difficult to describe using words, and 55% say using images is more fun than using words, according to Mintel’s report Communicating Through Imagery US 2015.

In addition, the on-pack faces and images bring emoji from the virtual realm into the real world, capitalizing on the category’s oft-promoted role of helping to bring people together. “Say It With Pepsi” has the most logical connection with Millennials and members of the iGeneration, who are more “fluent” in emoji than older adults. However, the appearance of emoji on items as everyday as carbonated soft drinks could start conversations between emoji speakers and less tech-savvy people, such as parents and grandparents of the iGeneration or Millennials, who may not understand what the faces mean or how they are traditionally used.

Indeed, the long-term effects of the “Say It With Pepsi” campaign might do more for emoji use than cola consumption. While the graphics are on pack, though, they can be leveraged to help people communicate and connect with one another.

img-PhilixLPhilix Liu, Trends Analyst APAC

“Is emoji a trend in APAC in 2016?” Brands and marketers in the APAC region often ask us this question as more and more emoji-related marketing campaigns surface in North America and Europe.  The simple answer to that question is yes, we do believe emoji marketing will be well appreciated by APAC consumers, especially younger Millennials.  However, due to wide cultural and social diversity across the region, brands should develop emoji campaigns tailored to each country market in order to connect with the local consumers.

Specifically looking at the Chinese market, emoji means more to Chinese consumers than the Western definition of emoji.  Stickers, gifs, memes, and emoticons are all considered as emojis in China.  On Chinese mobile messenger apps such as WeChat and QQ, Chinese emoji is growing increasingly popular among Millennials as a new way of vividly expressing their tones and emotions.

However, there are very few emoji marketing campaigns in China. Even for the very limited amount of brands that have used emoji for promotion such as Meitu launching an emoji pack of cute and funny cartoon characters, the marketing channel still remains mobile and digital.  In Chinese culture, emoji should be context-based and carry a story behind it.  In terms of the message, humor should be well integrated into future emoji-based marketing in China as 58% of Chinese 13-18 year olds claim that they are attracted to advertisements which are humorous according to Mintel’s report Marketing to Teens China 2015.

Looking ahead, the challenge as well as the opportunity is how brands can adapt to the Chinese versions of emoji and turn consumers’ fascination with stickers, gifs, and memes into impactful marketing campaigns.

Final thought

PepsiCo’s plans to roll-out the “Say It With Pepsi” campaign in more than 100 markets around the world has the potential to create global conversations because Pepsi’s cola brands and emoji all cross language barriers. In some markets, such as Asia, Pepsi may need to enhance the story and interactivity of the graphics, while in many other markets, the on-pack emoji may be enough to spark sales by helping people express their emotions. At least in the short-term, “Say It With Pepsi” helps to quiet conversations about the health impact of carbonated soft drinks and returns the carbonated soft drink category to a positive position as a conduit to bring people together and to create memories.

Jenny Zegler is a Global Food & Drink analyst at Mintel. Working on the Mintel Food & Drink platform, she covers the carbonated soft drink category, contributes to other categories and is the dedicated analyst monitoring global food and drink trends. In addition, she has been part of the teams that have developed Mintel’s annual US consumer trends since 2014 and annual food and drink trends since 2015.

Philix Liu is a Trends Analyst for the APAC region and is based in Shanghai. His area of focus includes innovation, creative marketing campaigns, new design and other trends related content. He also helps inspire brands and agencies on-site to innovate in the APAC region.

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