The 2021 SMS Emoji Trends Report

The most used and top-trending emojis based off of analyzing millions of text messages.

Emoji Report_V2_9-2021
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    Emojis first appeared on Japanese mobile phones in the late 1990s. Designed to add character and emotion to digital communication, emojis quickly gained popularity and have been a staple of email and messaging communication for the past few decades.

    We’ve seen a rise in SMS communications, with more and more brands using SMS marketing every month. And now, text messaging is becoming a common way for brands to communicate with their audience. 

    We know emojis belong in peer-to-peer communication, but do they have a place in business-to-consumer communications?

    We studied millions of messages sent via the Postscript platform in 2020 to figure out which emojis were the most popular per industry, per geographic location, per subscriber persona, and more.

    Consider this guide your go-to playbook for including emojis in your SMS marketing: Which emojis do Gen Z prefer? Which are sent most often by beauty brands? How many should I use per message? 

    We’ll also dive into whether or not including emojis has a potential impact on the success of your campaigns. 

    But first... what all goes into a text message?

    The anatomy of a 
text message

    Marketing text messages are versatile. They can look and feel just like a message from one of your friends or family, but they can also be spruced up with images and links.

    The image that sometimes accompanies a text message from brand (which makes it an MMS) is either a JPEG or a GIF. If it is a GIF, it may be animated. This section of a text message allows brands to include a picture of their team, a product, or an animation. This image may or may not include text.

    The body of a text message contains the core words — or content — of the communication. This message can be up to 160 characters for SMS, or 1600 for MMS. Choose wisely, because shorter messages often perform better. This is where emojis live.

    The end of a text message contains a call to action. This isn't required but is often helpful if the message is prompting subscribers to check out additional information on a website.

    Now that we have some basic definitions out of the way, let's get an understanding of how often brands used emojis last year.

    Anatomy_Phone_2

    Image goes here: JPEG, PNG, or GIF.

    Text message body. Words, links, personalization, and any promo codes.

    Call to action. What do you want the subscriber to do next?

    Emoji usage statistics

    Some brands use emojis often, while others never use them. Emojis, like images, colors, and punctuation, are often seen as part of the toolkit that makes up a brand voice.

    How often do campaigns use emojis?
    About 30% of campaigns sent by Postscript stores in 2020 used emojis.

    How many emojis are used per message?
    For stores who used emojis in campaigns, the median number of emojis per campaign was two (2).

    Top-used emojis of 2020

    Below are the most-used emojis across the Postscript platform in 2020. These are the usual suspects, with no real surprises — especially since these emojis are used in our most popular templates and automations.

    backhand-index-pointing-down (1)
    sparkles
    smiling-face-with-heart-eyes
    shopping-bags
    fire
    black-heart
    backhand-index-pointing-right
    wrapped-gift (2)
    party-popper (1)
    police-car-light

    Top trending emojis of 2020

    Here's where things get interesting.

    Top trending emojis are emojis with the biggest % increase during the month in question compared to their usage during the rest of the year. Emojis must have been used by multiple stores to qualify.

    Postscript Outbound messages top trending - iphone

    Top trending by month

    Top trending emojis can give us insight into world events, holidays, and more.

    Click the arrows next to the phone to scroll through the months.

    January

    🏈 💵 🗣 🍪 💁 🌙 ♂ 😃 😊 📦 💪 👯 ✔ 🙏 💚

    February

    💘 ☘ 👙 ⤵ 😴 💝 🥑 🌹 🍍 ❤ 📦 ✅ 💞 🌟 🌸

    March

    🔍 🌪 ☘ 🏡 🍀 ⚾ ✅ 🤷 🌷 🔑 🐰 🤠 🌸 🤣 🎂

    April

    🐣 ⚕ 🐥 🐰 ☑ 🌷 🍑 🏡 🥥 😷 👢 🤣 🌎 👨 👈

    May

    🐯 🎓 🥕 💐 😯 🍉 🧢 🌻 🍹 🌞 🏖 🍊 🔗 🍓 👗

    June

    🏳️ 👔 ✊ ✊🏽 ⬆ ✊🏾 ☀️,🏖️ 🍊 👗 💐 🐚 🌊 😛 🌵 🌈

    July

    🎆 🎇 ⬅ 🍦 🗽 🌾 🧨 🦅 🍰 🌼 🌊 🍒 ❣ 🌞 🤍

    August

    ⏩ 🚜 🐮 📱 🍸 🐍 🎒 🤞 🍳 🕒 🍎 🛍 📲 💻 😄

    September

    🔺 🪑 🤓 🧊 🥤 🍂 🍁 😻 🌴 🔗 🐆 🧡 🌮 👡 📣

    October

    👻 🧣 🎃 🦇 🎗 💀 🍬 🔷 ☠ 🪑 🆕 🍭 🌶 ✋ 🍁

    November

    🚧 🦃 🍗 ▪ 🥺 ➕ 🧨 🍵 🍽️ 🏷️ ⬅ 🤖 🤭 ✋ 🎀

    December

    ⛄ 🎅 🎄 ⭕ ❄️ 🔔 ▶ ☃️ 🎁 ❌ 💊 🧀 🐴 ✍ 🎇

    Top trending by week

    Scroll through the panels below to get an even more granular view of top-trending emojis last year.

    ✔️ Note the holiday-themed emojis in July. (Christmas in July?)
    ✔️ There was a rise in mask emoji, home, world, and teardrop emojis last March during the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    ✔️ Diverse skin toned emojis made an appearance during BLM movement events throughout the year.

    Apparel

    Apparel

    🌤️  🧥  🧣  👡  👗  🙏🏽  🛑  👢  👖  👠  👯  👣  🌵  ⚕

    Beauty/Cosmetics

    Beauty/Cosmetics

    💄  🧼  💧   🌿   🥭  👉🏾  ✊🏽  💆   🥑   🕛  🌱   💅  🎨  🙃  💦   👉🏽

    Top trending emojis by vertical

    These emojis had the biggest percent increase amongst each particular industry compared to all other industries.

    Home Goods

    Home Goods

    🎓  🎨  🌳  🙈  🚀  💌  🌎  📣  ⏳  😴  ✈  💛  ⭐  🌹  📦  💻

    Misc & electronics

    Misc & electronics

    🐾  🐶  🗽  ✅  😃  🤭  🏆  🧢  👍  ™  🌈  💰  ♂  🐰  🚀

    Health/Wellness

    Health/Wellness

    🧨  🍊  🤙  🦅  🍋  🤘  🧠  💦  👈  ☝  ✅  💤,🔰  🤜

    Food & Beverage

    Food & Beverage

    🥩  🧀  😁  🥛  🍇  🍕  🍪  🍓  🤤  🧘  📣  ☕  🍫  🍷

    Do emojis change depending on location?

    Short answer: yes!

    Here we show the emojis with the biggest percent increase amongst each particular region compared to all other regions.

    Click a region above, or hover on the map!

    Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi

    🔰 🕒 👉🏿 ❌ 👸🏾 👋🏽 🦀 🗨 🚧 🐘 🕰 🧜 ⭕ 🙏🏾 ✏️  🚛 👉🏾

    Fun Facts
    • Darker skin tone emojis in the south

    Oregon and Washington

    💡 🤎 ☁️️ 🐶 🐰 ☕ 🤞 🎊 ➡ 🎂 😱 ⚡ 🎆 🌈 📲 ☺ 💖 🎉 🌿 🥰

    Fun Facts
    • Clouds and coffee

    California, Hawaii, and Nevada

    🍅 🍝 👶 🥒 🔍 🥄 ✋ 🤜 ⚖ 🧊 🤦🏾 🖌 🍃 🐝 🛡 ◾ 🍧 🥣 🤢 🐠

    Fun Facts
    • Veggies and new babies in CA

    Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas

    ⏩ 🙉 🚜 👍🏽 🤡 🚘 👉🏿 🙏🏼 👊🏼 🌰 🎭 ✝ 🙏🏽 🤠 ▪ 🐮 🎅🏾 🍰 💻 🤳 🌼

    Fun Facts
    • Tractors and cars in Texas

    Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin

    👹 ⏺ 📿 😯 💁🏽 ✍ 🐱 🍇 🔮 👇🏽 🗣 ❓ 😃 🏼 ▶ 🆕 📲 💍 👉🏼 🎶

    Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota

    ◼ 🐃 🐴 ❓ 🧐 🐫 🔹 👧 🤍 ⛄ ⬅ 🌼 🎶 ➡ 🤦 😝 😬 🤑 🛍️ 💳

    Fun Facts
    • Horses in the midwest

    Delaware, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia

    🪑 🚒 🐚 🐨 😖 ☝🏾 👮 🏃🏽 ⚕ 🎗 🔴 👡 ☑ 💄 💅 👟 🤸 👑 🧚 🌶

    Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming

    🏜️ 🌪️ 🌵 🤞 ⛰️ 🦍 ➕ 🌲 🚗 🥀 🍺 🧢 💤 🐄 💟 🍊 ▪ 👽 💎 🖤

    Fun Facts
    • Deserts and mountains and beer in AZ/Rocky mountain states (and gorillas…)

    Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania

    ⛓ 🍨 🥿 📝 🩰 ♦ 🆘 🔗 😻 📍 😁 🥝 🔑 👇🏾 🔹 🧙 🦅 ⏬ 🔺

    Canada and overseas

    ✂ 🤖 🚗 🌳 👜 🍳 👨 🎅🏼 😃 🤦 🤍 🐶 🍻 🙂 💧 👙 🍾 ® 🏖 🚀

    Emoji breakdown by subscriber demographic

    Every generation seems to have their own language, with inside jokes, song references, and trending phrases — fueled by popular culture and current media. So do they receive different emojis in marketing? We studied the emojis that trended most among stores with customers in certain demographics.

    Young subscribers

    Young Subscribers: Stores with “Gen Z” age subscribers (estimated average age of 24 and below) used expressive faces and also multiple variations on hearts, butterflies, lips, and sparkles.

    These are the top trending emojis for Gen Z stores:

    😇 💅 🦋 💞 😅 😛 💸 😌 😩 💗 💋 💌 🤑 👀 😳 🏆 💫 🚚 ✈ 📲 💕 ✨ 😏 😃 😱 🎀 💖 💓

    Gen_Z
    Older

    Old(er) subscribers

    The are the top trending emojis used by average-age-over-50 stores (note the golf, work shirt, old-school phone):

    🦅 🏌 🙅 ☎️ 🍃 ⚾ 👔 🤒 🚔 🚪 🐕

    Men

    These are the top trending emojis used by stores with the highest estimated percentages of men vs women:

    🏔️ 🏴 ⚔ 🎮 🚔 🔪 🤖 🦅 ⚾ 🏌 ⛳  😈  🤙 🚀 🤘 🌶️

    Guys
    Gals

    Women

    These are the top trending emojis used by stores with the highest estimated percentages of men vs women. (The “run” emoji was usually used in the context of hurrying people to buy, not selling running gear)

    💟 🏃🏼 👡 👖 🐆 💬 📩 😒 👭 📌 👗 👓 👋🏾 ⚖️

    Although we don’t have any exact record of stores’ subscribers’ age or gender, we can roughly estimate average values, based on open-source U.S. census data about probability of having a certain age or certain gender given a first name. We queried an open-source library that had already compiled the name-to-gender-and-age information in easy lookup format.

    Emojis in SMS versus email

    We partnered with email monitoring and analytics company MailCharts to observe the difference between emoji usage in SMS versus email subject line.

    From a marketer’s perspective, a good baseline strategy would be to take your best-performing email subject lines and test them as an SMS message. After all, both formats are optimizing for word count, offer clarity and a clear call-to-action.

    Top 10 emojis on email versus SMS

    The biggest difference? SMS uses more pointing-emojis — perhaps indicative of the multi-line format of SMS messages versus email subject lines. When we look at emojis that have the largest increase in prevalence in SMS body versus email, this hypothesis is confirmed.

    Emojis with largest % increase in SMS body vs email header
(Note all of the fingers promoting link clicks.)

    🙌🏾 🔗 😛 👇 👏🏼 🔽 👆 😫 👇🏼 👡

    And in contrast, here are the emojis that are often used in subject lines but not in SMS.

    🖼️ 🔦 📺 ✉️ 💭 🐎 🐦 🍕 🔵 📅

    Email

    ✨ 🎁 🖤 🚨 🎉 ⚡ 🔥 ⭐ ⏰ ☀️

    SMS

    👇 😍 🔥 👉 🎉 ✨ 🛍️ 🖤 🎁 🚨

    How often are emojis used in subject lines versus SMS?

    Fewer emojis are used in email subject lines versus SMS. The median count of emojis in the email headers was just one — compared to two for median count in SMS messages in emojis.

    "The lower occurrence of emojis in email subject lines makes sense if you think about it for two reasons: the average email subject line is just 35-40 characters compared to 160 characters in SMS, and then email clients don’t have quite the same level of support for emojis like our phones do. So with less “space” to work with and needing to be more cautious—best practices call for email subject line emojis to fall at the beginning or end of the subject line in case they’re stripped—it all adds up!” — Tom Buchok, CEO & Founder, MailCharts

    Detailed methodology for email versus SMS: The data from MailCharts pulled subject lines that used emojis spanning 90 days from November 2020 through January 2021. The data from Postscript pulled SMS messages that used emojis spanning all of 2020. While this is not a true 1:1 comparison, overall top emojis do not vary heavily on a month-to-month basis.

    Emoji impact on SMS performance

    So is it worth the credit usage to pepper some emojis into SMS campaigns? The only real way to find out is with an A/B test, and a few stores have already jumped in and started gathering results. (Plug to stores: we strongly recommend that you perform your own testing and gain some valuable insight about your unique subscriber group in the process)

    Based on the results from 6 A/B tests run by stores:

    Emojis and CTR (click-through rate)

    Average Results
    On average, there was not an improvement in CTR for the campaign variants containing emojis vs. those that didn’t. The average test result in fact showed a small lift (0.3%) in CTR on non-emoji campaign variants, with the non-emoji variants beating the emoji variants with an average 60% confidence - not significant results by any typical standards!

    Individual Tests
    None of the individual A/B tests showed an improvement of either the emoji or non-emoji variant with >95% probability, 
which is a typical confidence cutoff for concluding an A/B test.
    This test by Your Super saw the highest confidence (85%) of the non-emoji variant getting more clicks:

    This test by Your Super saw the highest confidence (85%) of the non-emoji variant getting more clicks:

    thumbs-up
    UP_One
    thumbs-down (1)
    DOWN_One

    This test by SET ACTIVE saw the highest confidence (73%) of the emoji variant getting more clicks:

    thumbs-down (1)
    DOWN_Two
    thumbs-up
    UP_Two

    Emojis and EPM (earnings per message)

    Average Results
    In contrast to CTR, on average there was an improvement in EPM for the campaign variants containing emojis vs. those that didn’t. The average test result actually showed a $0.21 lift in EPM on emoji campaign variants, with the emoji variants beating the non-emoji variants with an average 58% confidence - again, not very high!

    This test by Your Super saw the biggest lift in EPM on the non-emoji variant:

    This test by Your Super saw the highest confidence (85%) of the non emoji variant getting more clicks:

    thumbs-up
    UP_Three
    thumbs-down (1)
    DOWN_Three

    This test by SET ACTIVE saw the biggest lift in EPM on the emoji variant:

    thumbs-down (1)
    DOWN_Four
    thumbs-up
    UP_Four

    We recommend that stores continue to run larger tests to increase confidence on whether or not emojis boost EPM, and which emojis are most effective.

    Wrapping things up...

    Emojis are here to stay: they're a fun, playful way to communicate. When it comes to SMS marketing, brands have to make the best use out of a limited amount of characters. Emojis are a perfect accent to marketing messaging, two-way conversations, transactional SMS, and more.

    Over 4,000 brands trust Postscript to hold conversations between them and their customers through empathetic, customer-first messaging. Sign up for a demo to learn more about how you can connect with your customers through our award-winning platform.