Not Every Brand Loves Emojis. Always ‘Like a Girl’ Says the Female Ones Are Terrible

Brand rips into stereotypes

Headshot of Tim Nudd

Most brands have expressed eternal love for emojis in recent years, as they try to talk the talk of young people today. Not so fast, says Always' "Like a Girl" campaign, which points out in a new ad that the images of women in the standard Unicode emoji set are woefully stereotypical.

As this piece in Mic recently pointed out, female emojis are severely limited. Beyond the neutral female emoji, there's a princess, a bride, a pair of twins, a dancer in a red dress and a series of "information desk" characters. Male emoji characters, meanwhile, include Santa Claus, a policeman, a guardsman, a detective, a construction worker and an angel.

There are two gender-ambiguous athletes with long hair—playing basketball and surfing. But most of the emoji athletes are male, including a horseback rider, a bowler, a runner, a golfer and a swimmer. 

For the new "Like a Girl" spot, Leo Burnett interviewed girls and asked them how they feel about the emoji set today. Check out their responses here:

"Society has a tendency to send subtle messages that can limit girls to stereotypes," says documentary filmmaker Lucy Walker of Pulse Films, who directed the spot. "As someone who has studied sociolinguistics, I know the kind of impact even seemingly innocuous language choices can have on girls."

Walker adds: "It was so interesting to hear these girls talk about emojis and realize how the options available to them are subtly reinforcing the societal stereotypes and limitations they face every day. I've been a fan of the #LikeAGirl campaign from the beginning, and I'm excited to join Always in empowering girls to be confident and stay confident by helping rally for change in societal limitations, like those illustrated in emojis."

Always isn't the first brand to criticize emojis. Last year, Dove noticed that there's a "one size fits all" hair type for female emojis—"straight and sleek, the traditional beauty ideal." The Unilever brand ended up releasing its own Dove Love Your Curls Emoji Keyboard, developed in partnership with Snaps, which featured curly-haired emojis.

Emoji images are particularly important, Always says, because they are used so much by young, impressionable people.

"We know that girls, especially during puberty, try to fit in and are therefore easily influenced by society. In fact, we found that 7 out of 10 girls even felt that society limits them, by projecting what they should or should not do, or be," says Michele Baeten, associate brand director and lead Always "Like a Girl" leader at Procter & Gamble. "The girls in emojis only wear pink, are princesses or dancing bunnies, do their nails and their hair, and that's about it. No other activities, no sports, no jobs … the realization is shocking."

At the end of the spot, the brand asks: "What girl emoji do you want? Tell us with #LikeAGirl." Also check out the Always infographic below, outlining the problem. 


Client: P&G Always           

Agency: Leo Burnett Chicago

Campaign: Always #LikeAGirl – Emojis

Executive Creative Director: Nancy Hannon     

Creative Director: Natalie Taylor, Isabela Ferreira

Art Director: Jin Yoo, Amanda Mearsheimer

Copywriter: Garrett Vernon

Executive Account Director: Annette Sally

Account Director: Katie Nikolaus

Account Supervisor: Sarah Kaminsky

Assistant Account Executive: Susanne Sward

Executive Producer: Tony Wallace  

Producer: Adine Becker, Andrea Friedrich

Production Company: Pulse Films

Director: Lucy Walker

Editorial: Beast

Editor: Angelo Valencia 

Color: Company 3

Colorist: Tyler Roth

Finish: Method Studios

Finish Artist: Ryan Wood

Postproduction Producer: Lauren Roth 

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.