That word doesn’t mean what you think it means… [sad face emoji]

21st August 2015

Could ‘emoji’ be considered as a contender for a truly global language? One that is used and understood by everyone around the world? In some respects, emoji resembles a variation on the language of the country that created them – Japanese. Both use pictogram characters to convey meaning, as opposed to the Western use of traditional ‘words’. Emojis take this pictorial concept and simplify further, creating an image that instantly conveys happiness – 🙂 , or sadness – 🙁 , to the recipient, regardless of which native language they speak.

While there is some debate on the future of emojis use, one can’t argue with its effectiveness in getting its message across, especially when used in an emotional context. An emoji can express the excitement about an upcoming event, the pleasure of biting into your favourite food, or the frustration of knocking a cup of coffee over your keyboard, in a far more direct way than a paragraph of text ever could, and this hasn’t gone un-noticed by the marketers…

While the smiley face emoji has been around for years and often employed as a cheery sign-off on text messages, it seems the big brands are starting to adopt their use too, with the White House, Oreo Cookies and Pepsi joining the ranks of companies looking to capitalise on the growing popularity of emoji.

Kane Russell, vice president of marketing at Waterfall, San Francisco, has this to say about emoji use and branding :-

“Emojis are effective because they convey a universal emotion or feeling in a simple, concise manner.” He continues “Our society has shifted towards rapidly getting and ingesting information. Emojis fit that development well, and can help brands elicit personal connections with consumers in a much broader fashion than other social forms of media. Marketing when done best is fun – emojis create that environment. For social action specifically, the emoji character harnesses the concept of a picture being worth more than words.”

As with all languages though, there is always the danger of mistranslation and emoji is no different. Due to cultural differences, it appears that the Western interpretation of some characters has put a decidedly peculiar slant on things, as an article in Wired magazine explains :-

“Yeah, we’ve all been doing this wrong. You’ve been employing this one to convey anger, haven’t you? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. After all, it does remind you of an angry bull, blowing steam from its nostrils. But alas, no. Unicode says it’s intended to convey triumph and “winning”—as nose steam, naturally, does.”

Given that Japan, the country that essentially invented emoji, and the West have their own, different, cultural references, it’s not surprising that we have interpreted many of the characters in our own, unique way. Perhaps this isn’t so much of a problem if users are localised, as long as everyone in a given area agrees on the same meaning for a given emoji. The danger, or potential embarrassment, only occurs when using them globally. As with all types of translation and localisation, the intended meaning in one country might mean something completely different when used elsewhere.

Foreign Tongues Translation specialises in making sure your message and meaning is specifically tailored to your target market. While we wouldn’t advise translating into emjoi itself, we can advise you on all aspects of your projects language localisation requirements.

If you, or your Clients, are looking to have translation undertaken – contact us now for your free, no obligation, quote.

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