Marketers Want to Start Measuring Emoji Viewability

But not all agencies are on board

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As consumers increasingly communicate using emojis, brands have worked for the past couple of years to design and crank out sponsored stickers for messaging apps. Now, a tech firm is looking to measure them the same way marketers measure online and digital-video advertising.

Emogi, a messaging startup that reaches 10 million daily users, has partnered with Moat to measure how consumers use branded emojis and stickers. Chiefly, Emogi's data focuses on viewability, which measures how long digital ads are seen by humans.

"A lot of people are investing in emoji creation and development, but they're not getting scale and measurement after they end investment," said Alexis Berger, chief strategy officer of Emogi.

Here's how it works: When a consumer opens an emoji keyboard inside a messaging app, Emogi counts it as an impression. (Each time the keyboard slides open it counts as one impression per brand, even if a marketer has created several sponsored decals that are positioned next to each other.)

"We look at it in a pretty similar lens as we look at any screen," said Jonah Goodhart, CEO and co-founder at Moat. "We want to understand: Was the user exposed? We want to understand if the ad or element showed up in front of them and how long was it there. And, ultimately, we want to understand what action was taken."

Definitions of viewability differ among marketers, but the Media Rating Council counts a digital ad if 50 percent of it appears for one second. WPP-owned Group M meanwhile has its own standards, requiring 100 percent of an ad be in view for at least a second before it's billable.

"The idea of what happens beyond that if an action is taken is interesting and important, but we think the core impression should be counted when there was an initiation of the emoji coming onto someone's screen," Goodhart said.

Once an ad impression is determined, Emogi and Moat then work to measure a few different stats. In-view percentage, for example, measures when 50 percent or more of an emoji's pixels are seen on a screen for more than one second. Another stat, total exposure, analyzes the amount of time a branded emoji is in view across all users for brands.

Emogi said that WPP's GroupM is testing the new analytic tools for L'Oréal, Moet Hennessy and NBCUniversal. But whether emoji viewability will catch on more broadly at agencies, at least in the near future, is unclear.

For one, emoji formats differ across messaging apps—Kik, iMessage, Facebook Messenger and others—meaning that creating a universal standard will be tough. Agencies also say they want more research on how people use messaging apps as well as sentiment data about how consumers pick emojis before getting into nitty-gritty stats that break down how much of a decal is in view on a given page.

Deutsch's vp and digital strategy director Rachel Mercer said she's interested in viewability but would prefer to see more big-picture stats on how consumers use emojis broadly.

"At the most basic level is overall use; overall use is the thing that's going to be the No. 1 barrier to entry right now," said Jeremy Simon, director of influencer and partnership marketing at KBS-owned Attention. "We need to see more stats on overall messaging usage and then I think it will be easier to set some standards for viewability."

Instead of fixating on how much of a pixel loads on a page, a handful of other emoji firms, including Snaps and Inmoji, focus on stats like shares or clickthrough rates that track how consumers interact with a piece of content.

Snaps has built emoji apps and run media for marketers including Starbucks, Pepsi and Burger King and provides advertisers with brand-lift studies in addition to numbers on how many consumers download or share branded decals.

"The most important metric is active engagement of the content," said Chao Liao, vp of partnerships at Snaps. "From a brand-objective standpoint, we believe that brand lift and sales lift are the ultimate measurements, and we try our best to accommodate brand-lift studies that can run across platforms."

Meanwhile, Inmoji, a startup that builds clickable icons within messaging apps, charges brands when someone clicks on an image to access additional content. Once someone clicks through on an icon, they can watch a video or interact with a piece of content.

"Impressions is a value-add. We get hundreds of millions of impressions, but we don't charge brands for that," said Michael Africk, CEO and co-founder of Inmoji.

Still, Attention's Simon noted that advertisers have started to ask for more data about their emoji campaigns in the past 12 months.

"While it might not seem like it's that important right now," he said, "for our clients that have viewability as a metric, that's important to them, that's something that they're asking for. A year ago, you were allowed just to do the research on it—now they're asking, more importantly, that there's a measurement piece."

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.