South Carolina Highway Patrol Using Emojis to Curb...

beresemojisSouth Carolina Highway Patrol Sgt. Bob Beres speaks in a language perhaps best understood by young people but nonetheless universal. His mom is Hungarian, and she speaks little English but she can understand. Spanish speakers can pick it up, so can foreign tourists and people who can't even read, Beres said. About 130 billboards inspired by Beres' language of choice have popped up across the state. He speaks fluent emoji. Those are the little graphic icons used in text messages and on social media. Think a cartoony thumbs-up and various smiley faces. The billboards show emojis representing an alcoholic drink, the plus sign and a car with an equal sign leading to a police car. The message is drinking and driving equals arrest. "It makes you stop and think about the message, which makes you remember it," said Cpl. Bill Rhyne, a spokesman for the Highway Patrol in Greenville. The emoji-based ad campaign will be spreading to iceboxes outside of convenience stores and gas pump handles this summer and will be on high school sports tickets starting with football games in August. There's not a whole lot new about the campaign, or even emojis, but it should prove effective, said Tharon Howard, a Clemson University professor who is director of the master's degree program in professional communications and whose research includes digital publishing. Howard said he was involved in a multimillion-dollar campaign with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in the 1990s using the same basic technology, called emoticons at the time. Graphic symbols supplementing the written word have a long heritage and have been called emoticons, Wingdings, dingbats and printer's ornaments, and way before that, cave paintings. Howard said he saw one of the Highway Patrol's billboards recently and it stuck with him. "I looked at it and tried to figure out the equation," he said. What makes the emojis stick is that they are little puzzles, Howard said. "People pause and try to figure out what they are saying, they decode the emojis and that's fun." It's a form of gamification, the idea that people will want to learn more and naturally retain more when something like advertising borrows the emotional payoffs people get from playing games, Howard said. "It's that impulse to solve problems and play games that really helps emojis reach across cultures," he said. Beres' Twitter posts regularly have detailed puzzles with dozens of emojis. Beres goes all in on the emojis, said Rhyne. "I can send a few emojis here and there," Rhyne said, "but not like the entire sentences using nothing but emojis that Bob can do with his creativity. At the end of the day, we all want to save lives. I don't care how we do it, whether it's through emojis, Facebook, Twitter or talking to people. This is just one of those things that makes you stop and think." As recently as nine months ago Beres had never used an emoji and now he is sought after by national advertising executives for his emoji skills. His first emojis were sent from his Twitter account (@TrooperBob_SCHP) shortly after the state's historic flooding in October, when Beres and other public safety officials were trying to make sure their messages got out. Beres said he found his emojis warning people about the flooding were being shared, and reaching more people, than pictures of trucks falling into sinkholes and getting far more traction than words alone. As he got deeper and deeper into emojis, the calls started pouring in from TV news stations from Connecticut and throughout the country. His emojis have been shared by tens of thousands of people and he was part of an emoji-based advertising campaign featuring State Farm's "Jake" spokesman. Beres said the emojis aren't going anywhere, he still gets hundreds of people interacting with him because he is speaking their language. "We want zero fatalities in South Carolina," Beres said. "Emojis have became a big hit and we didn't expect it." A new batch of 72 emojis was recently announced and should be available for use in the fall, featuring an avocado and icons for "rolling on the floor laughing" as well as clowns, whiskey glasses and stop signs. It'll give puzzlemaster Beres a few new pieces to put together.

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