Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Why the Rich and Famous are on Fire for Emojis, and Why Brands Should Care


Understatement: Stephen Curry's new emoji app is a slam dunk with fans. Less than a day after its release this week, StephMoji shot to the top spot on the iTunes paid apps chart. At $1.99 per download, the Golden State Warriors point guard made millions in minutes, crushing the latest mobile Minecraft release and Kim Kardashian's freshly-updated Kimoji app in its path. Not bad.

Appmoji, Inc. | Apple iTunes

Related: Funniest Twitter Reactions to NBA's Plan for Jerseys with Ads

Next up in the sizzling celeb emoji game, and more than fashionably late, is Justin Bieber. The Canadian pop poster boy went live with his branded emoji app, predictably named Justmoji, just hours ago. Think loads of cutesy stickers, avatars and GIFS of all things Biebs, complete with chiseled abs and boxer briefs. (There's even an emoji that mocks that time he peed in a restaurant mop bucket. Classy.)

Sultry-eyed Justmoji not enough for ya? Don't fret, fan boys and girls. You better Belieb more celebs will want to follow in the heartthrob's newly emoji-fied footsteps -- and in Blac Chyna, Amber Rose, Ariana Grande, Tommy Chong and Wiz Khalifa's, too. Yup, they all officially exist as copyrighted emojis.

With so much cash and cachet for the taking, branding experts anticipate that the celebrity emoji beast that Kim K. unleashed with the debut of her signature app last year will only continue to blow up and not fade away.

Like Curry's entry just did, Kimoji also snagged the top-grossing spot in its first day in the App Store. How long before Justmoji rockets to the top? Who knows? What we do know is that millions of people around the world have a massive appetite for smiley, text-able versions of their pop idols, mini swatches of fame they glom onto and visually express themselves vicariously through.

Related: NBA Star Stephen Curry Takes a Shot at His Own 'Slyce' of Social Media

Linda Ong, founder and CEO of TruthCo., a New York City-based branding analytics consultancy that works with entertainment brands to help them keep their marketing relevant, says people can't get enough of celebrity emoji apps because they're powerful amplifiers of superfandom.

"Their popularity can be seen in the traditional sense as a mere brand extension," Ong tells Entrepreneur, "but it is also a signifier of a larger cultural phenomenon: the rise of fan-based global subcultures." Doling out cute digital icons created for and contractually endorsed by your favorite star "transcends traditional languages and boundaries by uniting people with a common mindset -- i.e., Beliebers -- to communicate immediately as insiders."

Related: The New Under Armour Ad Speaking to Athletes Will Resonate With Entrepreneurs, Too

That's partly the point -- creating a tangible sense of exclusivity and closeness with a celebrity -- particularly if you're a fan who's a text-master millennial, Ong says. "Our work on millennial culture indicates celebrity emoji apps let fans become stakeholders in their images. They create a personal connection, like shareholders, through a visual language that outsiders can't understand."

You're so close with Curry, you can dribble his famous head around in your texts like you're part of his crew. The best part for him is that he gets paid when you do and, sorry boo, he never has to actually hang with you. It's all about the download dollars.

"These apps are a volume play," Ong says. "The prices are so low that fans don't even blink, which turns each of them into a potential evangelist for more, provided the experience is rewarding. Every time someone uses them, it's like a free marketing campaign to all of their followers and friends."

Related: Google Wants to Create Career-Woman Emojis

More fame, more money, honey, but also more control.

With super shareable emojis up their viral branding sleeves, stars can better steer their stories in the public eye, shifting focus away from TMZ-style paparazzi pics and gossip factories. "With their own social media channels, they have the ability to drive and invite conversations rather than be the target of them," Ong says. "Branded emojis are a way to build relationships with fans that go beyond the sheer entertainment value of their work."

Not just a celebrity game

Brands are also sliding into your DMs, with some 250 of them angling for their own advertising-loaded slices of the enticing emoji marketing pie, Star Wars, Dove, Toyota, Burger King and Taco Bell among them. Lazy customers can now use emoji to search Yelp and order Domino's pizza via emoji tweet, not that you'd ever do that, right?

Business owners with brands to push, particularly to younger audiences, would be wise to hop on the emoji bandwagon, Ong says. "Brands need to shift from a transactional mindset to one that focuses on building relationships," she tells us. "For decades, brands taught consumers how to live aspirationally. Today, consumers teach brands what's important to them."

Related: The 100 Most Popular Emoji Hashtags on Instagram (Infographic)

Let's just hope they don't shove chicken fries and lightsabers into our smartphone keyboards -- and all over our tweets, Instas, Snaps, messaging apps and dank memes -- for decades to come. Next, they'll advertise straight through our skulls via virtual reality. Whoops, too late. Immersive advertising is already a thing. McDonald's Happy Meal headset, anyone?

If flavor-of-the-week superstar emoji swapping isn't your thing, and saying it with Coca-Cola emoji isn't either, relax, the overlords of the Unicode Consortium have you covered. They're releasing 72 funny, goofy and weird new emojis later this month. At last, you'll have the side of double bacon you've always wanted (and a bald clown you'll wish you could unsee).

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks