The History of Emojis

Written By: Nicole Date: 17.07.2018 Categories: Social

For thousands of years, humans have used visual signs and representations as a form of communication. The earliest methods of communication used by humans are said to be a set of disorganised signs that would have had different meanings for each human. Cut to 2018, and we’re seeing a similar form of communication - in emojis. 

The first set of emojis ever created were by a young Japanese engineer named Shigetaku Kurita in 1999. If you’ve ever wondered where the word ‘emoji’ comes from, it’s actually a combination of the Japanese words - ‘e', for picture and ‘moji’, meaning character. Shigetaku Kurita worked for a cellphone company named NTT DoCoMo. DoCoMo then released its first internet service called iMode - and this was where the emojis were meant to be used. The purpose of emojis on this platform was to allow subscribers to read information quickly and to be able to easily communicate with each other. Kurita took his inspiration for developing these emojis from mass media, billboard messages and pictograms displayed in Japanese bathrooms during the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964. 

The emoji boom

Emojis really started to become popular worldwide around 2010, which is when some emoji character sets were put into Unicode (a standard system for indexing characters) making them more accessible to people outside of Japan and across different operating systems. The increasing popularity of emojis over the years meant more pressure from international markets to have more designs and emojis added to the Unicode standard to fit different cultures. When the first set of icons was released in 1999, there was only 176 of them. Today, there are about 2,823 of them.

Emojis also differ according to different operating systems which can often lead to miscommunication between Apple and Android users (although, this might be changing). The vagueness of emojis has allowed for their meanings to be interpreted differently by different age groups, cultures and even genders. Many emojis are not even used for their intended meanings - like the aubergine and peach emojis. Some emojis, however, are outright misinterpreted by everyone. Hubspot actually created a 2017 Emoji Translation Guide to show some of the emojis we were using in the wrong way. 

Emojis have become such a big part of how we communicate online and often replace whole words and sentences - so much so that in 2015 Oxford Dictionaries named the “face with tears of joy” emoji Word of The Year

Should brands use emojis in advertising?

As emojis continue to become more popular, and an essential part of our daily conversations, more and more brands have opted to use emojis in their marketing and community management. While it’s a great way for brands to show their “human side” and be a little more playful with their content, it’s important for brands to understand when it’s okay to use an emoji and when it’s not. Speaking like your audience doesn’t always mean connecting with them - your audience will understand when you’re being sincere and when you’re just trying too hard. When considering emojis, think about who and what your brand really is and understand who you’re targeting. Use emojis if your brand personality suits it. 

In private messages to consumers (thanking or acknowledging them), adding a smiley emoji can make the conversation feel more human. But adding lots of sad or crying faces when apologising or acknowledging a complaint might just come across as patronising - so be careful. Also understand how your audience uses emojis - using them all over the place without any understanding of them can make your brand come across as clueless. 


Many years from now, we might see emojis in a museum - depicting the essence of human communication in the era of smartphones and social media. For now, emojis are at the centre of how we communicate with each other - evolving with us and allowing us to express our emotions with little characters (whether we do so sincerely or not).  


One more fact: World Emoji Day actually came about as a result of Apple’s calendar emoji. The date on the Apple’s calendar emoji has always been 17 July - this eventually led to Apple users nicknaming the 17th of July ‘World Emoji Day’. 


Well, happy World Emoji Day!