When an Adidas Valentine’s Day ad featuring a same sex couple drew fire online, the company chose to walk a biblical parallel by responding with a positive emoji rather than engage in a war of ugly words.
While it may not have been directly drawn from Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger,” the affirmation resonated with the online community.
Emojis are tiny cartoons that evolved from emoticons into pictorial representations now used as a digital shorthand.
The ad, an image of two women facing each other with one on tiptoe as if to kiss a taller partner, was posted on the Adidas Instagram account with a caption taken from a lyric in the Beatles' classic song, The End: “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”
It drew an immediate and hostile response from some on Instagram.
A user named isaiahrawluk responded on the post, “Lost so much respect for you adidas. Love is only between man and woman.”
To which the company responded with both a waving hand and lipstick kiss emoji. The company continued to blow emoji kisses at detractors, thus starting a landslide of positive emoji use from its supporters.
Users on Twitter took up the standard as well.
In a study performed by mobile keyboard apps company Swiftkey last April, more than a billion emoji used by speakers of 16 languages around the world between October 2014 and January 2015 were analyzed from both Android and iOS devices.
Some 41.5 billion messages and 6 billion emoticons or stickers are sent around the world every day on mobile messaging apps. Among the more than 800 emoji, happy faces are still the most common emoji, accounting for nearly half of all emoji usage, according Swyftkey. Nearly half of all Instagram posts contain at least one emoji.
Elizabeth Owen, director of communications for PFLAG National, an LGBTQ family support organization, says in an interview, “It only took one small snapshot to share the love and it only take one small emoji to keep it going.”
On a personal level, not as a spokesperson, Ms. Owen adds, “As a fan, I loved it.”
“As someone who moderates in social media space, for me, that would be an opportunity for a discussion, so I would be less likely to use an emoji to respond and shut it down,” Owen says. “We always like to keep the door open to dialogue. But we’re not a sneaker company. I think their response of the emoji is lovely but for PFLAG that’s a point of engagement.”
Boston Pride president Sylvain Bruni writes in an email statement, “Boston Pride applauds Adidas for this clever response which provides pride and visibility for the LGBT community.”
“We also applaud Adidas for including a ‘coming-out clause’ in its athlete contracts, whereby they state that any athlete who comes out as LGBT will not lose their contract with Adidas,” Mr Bruni adds. “Engaging trolls and haters online doesn't bring about change, so Adidas’ move to use emojis was an appropriate response to show their support of the community and spread the simple message that they celebrate all love.”
Bruni adds, “Symbols and emojis are powerful and can convey strong messages in a single graphic, and in this instance, it worked well.”
Josh Rivedal, founder of The i'Mpossible Project, an online positive self-image effort, writes in an e-mail that "shutting the haters down via the use of an emoji—it was a perfect response.""Winning a war of words is virtually impossible via social media. Everyone has an opinion, which can be difficult to change, especially behind a keyboard," Mr. Rivedal adds. "Using a positive emoji is similar to a face-to-face response where you smile and agree to disagree."
“Emojis are the fastest form of communications. The image triggers your brain to register a connect to past memories that the image reminds you of – thus people experience a deeper connection to the image,” says public relations expert Imal Wagner in an interview. “This is PR 101. In media training, the first thing you learn is how to respond to negativity. You handle it with positivity and redirect the conversation with a new element, which is exactly what Adidas did. Plus, they made us smile which was actually brilliant.”
Ms. Wagner says. “Emojis are the fastest form of communications for reaching millennials. Brilliantly, even the Pope has his own positive emoji. For that matter, so does Kim Kardashian [Kimoji], although hers also run toward her own brand interests as well.”
Wagner concludes, “If the reach of emoji is broad enough to encompass the Pope and Kim Kardashian, both of whom have been dealing with haters a lot longer than Adidas, it’s a strategy that is evolving because it works.”