NEW YORK: Marketers looking for a way to exploit the surge in the use of messaging apps are exploring the use of branded emoji.

Ad Exchanger highlighted the work of New York start-up Snaps, which allows advertisers to create, distribute and host free, downloadable keyboards populated with GIFs, stickers and emoji which users can then insert into messages in any messaging app they use.

Already it counts Burger King, Viacom, Kraft and Sony Pictures among its clients. Another is candy brand Trolli which recently rolled out its "TrolliMoji" keyboard in support of its Weirdly Awesome campaign but with plans to continually update it with new emoji and GIF content to keep interest alive.

"Messaging can and should be a way to share and distribute content," explained Snaps CEO Christian Brucculeri.

"In a way, you can think of it like a Facebook page," he added. "You don't run a campaign on your Facebook page and then suddenly stop posting – this is the same."

Separately co-founder Vivian Rosenthal has described it as "advertising from a completely different perspective" since it was non-intrusive and opt-in.

"Fans choose to download the keyboards," she told Digiday. "That choice gives them agency and makes them brand evangelists on their own."

For the future Brucculeri is considering whether to have users register so that keyboards and phone numbers can be linked and users rewarded, while beacon integration could allow advertisers to send targeted offers to people in specific locations.

"Promoji", a combination of promotion and emoji, are also in the offing, described as "easily sharable, visually appealing coupons that users could scan at a point of sale to tie messaging together with offline behaviour".

1-800-Flowers has already dipped its toe into these waters, working with Snaps' rival Swyft Media to make a themed sticker pack available in the run-up to Mother's Day. This was downloaded 225,000 times over three days with images shared 742,000 times.

Users who engaged with the stickers were also given access to a promotion code within the messaging app that could later be used when making flower purchases. "Attribution, behaviour and conversion – it can be an easy loop in messaging," according to Amit Shah, svp/ online, mobile and social media.

"Emoji are the only non-interruptive currency left," he added. "It's not as superficial as it might seem on the surface."

Data sourced from Ad Exchanger, Digiday; additional content by Warc staff