In June, the Unicode Consortium added a taco emoji to the Unicode 8.0 standard, and last month, it became available to iOS users when Apple released iOS 9.1.

The debut of the taco emoji was a notable event not just for Mexican food lovers, but for Taco Bell, one of the largest Mexican food chains in the United States.

That's because Taco Bell was largely responsible for the taco emoji.

Thanks to a Change.org petition it organized that received more than 33,000 signatures, the brand was able to convince the Unicode Consortium to include a taco emoji in the 8.0 release of the Unicode standard.

With the taco emoji now widely available as part of iOS 9.1, Taco Bell decided to celebrate with a Twitter-based campaign driven by the brand's Taco Emoji Engine.

It allows taco lovers to tweet the taco emoji plus any other emoji to Taco Bell's Twitter account and automatically receive a response with one of 600 "unique taco inspired photos, gifs or sounds" that the fast food chain created for the campaign.

Emoji rising

Taco Bell's "taco emoji movement" is the latest demonstration of brand interest in and use of emojis, and it almost certainly won't be the last.

Thanks to the amount of communication that takes place on mobile phones, particularly amongst younger consumers, emojis are not just cute icons with a high novelty factor.

Instead, they are, for a growing number of people, a core part of the way information is conveyed in mobile conversations.

Brands like Taco Bell understand that emojis are key elements in many digital conversations and are looking for ways to ensure that they can be a part of those highly-visual conversations. But it isn't always easy, or free.

While Taco Bell was able to succesfully lobby the Unicode Consortium, not all brands will be able to get a true emoji of their own. 

As AdWeek's Kristina Monllos has detailed, many brands instead partner with popular messaging apps like WhatsApp and Kik to create branded emoticons that users of those apps can incorporate.

Other brands, like Ikea, have created their own emoticon apps, but this approach has significant shortcomings.

Emoticons are a good alternative for brands that want truly branded content and may not sell a product that will receive its own emoji, but for Taco Bell, the real thing was always the goal.

"People use the emojis natively already," Taco Bell representative Ashley Sioson explained when the chain was pursuing emojihood for the taco.

Now victorious in its efforts, Marisa Thalberg, Taco Bell's chief brand engagement officer, made it clear that for Taco Bell, the food came first.

"This is about the taco having its rightful place in the official emoji keyboard - this wasn't about us doing a branded thing, this was about the taco itself."

Patricio Robles

Published 12 November, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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