Can Emojis Influence Millennials’ Brand Perception and Affinity?

Visual imagery has long been an effective and powerful public relations tool. The 1929 “Torches of Freedom” campaign for Lucky Strike is an example of this. To launch the campaign, Edward Bernays, widely considered the father of public relations, selected attractive women (but not those who had the appearance of professional models) to march in New York City’s Easter Parade while smoking cigarettes. Photos of the women marching down Fifth Avenue were published in newspapers across the United States and helped spark an abrupt shift in the public’s perception of women who smoked. Along with the photos, the timing of Bernays’ publicity stunt generated an emotional connection between smoking and the women’s liberation movement – prompting women throughout the country to look to cigarettes as a symbol of freedom and their fight for equality.

​More than 80 years since Bernays launched this groundbreaking campaign, the role of visual imagery in society has evolved as the arsenal of visual storytelling platforms has exploded. Every day 1.8 billion photos were uploaded to Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Snapchat, and WhatsApp in 2014; 6 billion emojis or stickers were shared via mobile messaging aps on a daily basis in 2016; 23 million GIFs were posted to Tumblr every day 2015; and 10 billion videos were watched daily on Snapchat last year (Visual Content on Social Media).

This capstone project examines the increasing importance of visual communication in the practice of public relations and seeks to substantiate the ability of emerging forms of visual imagery – specifically emojis – to affect millennials’ perception of and affinity towards brands. My research is supported by an analysis of the evolution of emojis into a mainstream form of communication, examples of brands that have employed emojis in their communication strategies, a survey of millennials, and interviews with communications experts.

This excerpt is from Adria Marlowe’s capstone project for the MA in Public Relations program. To access Adria’s full capstone project please click here.

The Lawrence Herbert School of Communication is a center of creativity on Hofstra University’s campus. Our students are producing award-winning work, presenting research, and kickstarting their careers as future communications industry leaders. Prestigious faculty lead small, intimate classes and combine expert teaching, mentoring and hands-on experience to create a rich, collaborative learning environment.

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