The Indicator from Planet Money - Emojiconomics

What secretive forces were behind getting the pickup truck emoji onto phones and laptops around the world? And how much did it cost?

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NPR

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indicator from Planet Money, I'm Stacey Vanek Smith. I'm Alexi Horowitz Ghazi. And today we are talking about Emoji Stacy. Are you an emoji user? I am a huge. I like the little screaming man. That's the one that used the most. Oh, yeah a little chick newly emerging from the from the eggshell. That's my vibe. Everything's terrifying to me. Today. We're going to talk to you about a brand new emoji that many people may not have noticed yet ever since a few months ago. You will find they kind of unassuming little blue pickup truck, looks like a toy. That's right in the story behind this little toy truck. Emoji is actually kind of a window into the big and sometimes dare. I say dark money that companies are pushing around behind the scenes to shape are keyboards to hear the backstory of this particular Emoji. I went to the private company.

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Actually pushed for it to become a thing and I guess it's Stacy or maybe but it was actually the Ford Motor Company. You're more I spoke with Eric Grenier who heads up their social media. So where did this whole truck Emoji idea begin? We have been doing some work with Dwayne Johnson, you know the rock who I know the rock kid put out an Instagram post that said something blah blah blah insert non-existent pickup truck Emoji here and I can't be true turns out there's two camels but no pickup and transportation. By the way, the two are obviously the one hump and the two hump. That's like the single cab in the double cab of this silk exactly pretty quickly enough people pot and bothered on social media over the lack of a pickup truck.

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Eric just couldn't ignore it. Would it be fair to say the rock put you guys in kind of a hard place? Yes.

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So Eric and his team decided to enlist the services of an advertising agency to gauge market demand and figure out how many social media Impressions that might drive for the company of the attention and then mentions in the chatter that emojis get across all social platform. We were like we got to do this now go through the roof or nebulous return-on-investment. Okay in the short-term, you know, the Rocks online Emoji hungry horde, press in social media Buzz campaigning for high-profile Emoji, but more importantly Eric thought the Emoji would confirm a kind of iconic status to the pickup truck that it deserved and if the Emoji could look like a Ford F-150 that would be its own form of ambient advertising kind of subtly drinking in the company with the basic idea of a truck.

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He does not look anything like a Ford Alex. Everything went exactly according to plan their if you quit in the story and they're coming right after the break this message comes from NPR sponsor Borough the furniture company designing smarter simpler things for Modern Life at home there a new kind of furniture company with a single goal to read Furniture shopping with all the frustration surrounding it that means replacing distant warehouses with an easy-to-use website including fast free shipping on every order and creating furniture. That just makes sense from the modular design to the durable materials indicator listeners can take $75 off today. I'd burrow.com in Decatur

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Okay. So let's see you were talking to us about how Erik at Ford Motor Company was on a mission to make a truck Emoji at where did he start his team enlist the help of this same Ad Agency to submit a formal Emoji proposal and as they all learned pretty quickly. There is this one mysterious organization vested with the power to decide which Emoji ideas live. And which ones die one of our truck leads called at the Emoji Illuminati. The name is a little less cool, but it's called the Unicode Consortium. Would you describe yourself as like an emoji lobbyist an emoji for how do you edit a people into death rather than outside. The system is a member of Unicode Emoji subcommittee, which vets all Emoji proposals before they are presented to the full voting members of the organization and unicode explained is actually kind of just this nondescript nonprofit based in Silicon Valley and it's made up of like

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Programmers and Takis started thirty years ago. They're mean Mission has been to turn the world's written languages into standardized computer codes to make sure that each character including now Emoji would be universally compatible across devices all around the planet is a nonprofit. So she says money does find its way into Unicode Emoji approval process in all kinds of ways for Sims 4 most the full voting seats at Unicode the final group that ultimately decides in emojis fate. You can buy one of those seats for around $21,000 a year in membership fees and the seats are dominated by Silicon Valley Tech companies, like Google and apple and Netflix. So, is there an official policy about how money is supposed to influence or not influence the approval of emoji nothing specific about money at this point. It does have money a Jason issues. For example, there are no Emoji for celebrities Daddy's logo.

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Or brand and Jenny says that the least in theory the Emoji proposal process is supposed to be meritocratic the accept proposals from everyday people and they want to give priority to Emoji ideas that demonstrate Global demand and cultural relevance to vast swaths of the planet. It is not clear how all of this factored into the Ad Agency strategy to help Eric and forward with their F-150 Emoji dream. But by the time the proposal got to Jenny and the Emoji Illuminati, she says it looked like it was coming from just an everyday truck enthusiasts. I remember being really struck by the quality and the statistics and sort of like designs and it's like it was just a random guy emailed us all and like we're like, maybe you just going to pick up trucks like who knows? It's finally after around a year in process the pickup truck Emoji reached one of the final stages before approval in the summer of 2019.

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And that is when Eric and his team at Ford decided it was time to come forward by 17th of 2019. We announce to the world that we were behind the truck Emoji York steam release this Slick Truck commercial Style video announcement narrated by Bryan Cranston and sat back to watch the social media Impressions role in the moment. You've all been waiting for the truck emoji.

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You can't put a price on it because it's free. Of course, you can't put a price tag on hiring a marketing agency and shooting a TV commercial and Eric says in total getting the Emoji from being just a twinkle in The Rock's I to a symbol on all of our devices, the company north of $100,000 and despite the fact that the Emoji with a bit more generic than Ford had been hoping Eric says that from a marketing perspective. He thinks it was worth the money the announcement me this big splash on social media. And in the Press, did you feel like Unicode had been kind of tricked by big truck, but it was the first one that really raised the issue of whether or not there should be disclosure about dark money behind emoji and just Jennifer Haley says that plenty of emojis on your keyboard have had corporate backing the taco Emoji. For instance Taco Bell.

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I'll be really hard for that one to pass the interracial couple emoji. That was from Tinder hiking boots by Timberland to Beaker & microbe Emoji popular this year under those even the mosquito Emoji the guess who pushed for that one. Was it like off repellent people show me the Ford conduit about the process kind of subcontracting a proposal to a seeming truck enthusiasts at an ad agency without any clear link to the company that has led her and others to call for a change in the Emoji proposal process transparency. What's really important is to we want to know where that money generally is coming from Air Grandeur at Ford social media says the company did not intentionally obscure its role in gestating the pick up emoji. It's simply did not want to publicize it until it was basically a done deal at the time of publication that Dwayne The Rock Johnson has still not respond.

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Send to multiple requests for comment, but if you do hear this Mister Rock, please get in touch. We can always do a follow-up call.

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If you want to know more about where Emoji come from a new documentary called the Emoji story produced by Jennifer 8 Lee is now available online by Samsung by the indicator is edited by Patty Hirsch and is a production of NPR.
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