If a picture is worth a thousand words, how valuable is an emoji? Perhaps this was a question on the minds of those who drafted a Chevy press release Monday—a message that was written entirely in emoji images. The press release caused quite a media buzz. Unfortunately, aside from the hashtag “#ChevyGoesEmoji” in English at the bottom of the page, it was also utterly incomprehensible.
Chevy released an official translation of the press release Tuesday afternoon, explaining that it was meant to announce the 2016 Chevy Cruze, an all-new model of its popular compact car that will be rolled out this week. It’s unclear how three images of a globe translate exactly to “Chevrolet is now one of the world’s largest car brands, doing business in more than 115 countries and selling 4.8 million trucks a year”—nor is it a particularly logical jump from a danger sign followed by a row of purses and briefcases to “Safety: 10 air bags.” But props to Chevy for trying its best to work around the limitations of the standard emoji keyboard, especially as long-awaited icons such as unicorns and cheese remain unavailable for widespread use.
In the day and a half between the press release and its translation, news outlets flew into a tizzy trying to analyze the marketing strategy behind the decision. Some praised Chevy for sneakily drawing free media attention, and others criticized the car company for being overly gimmicky. Both charges have a lot of truth to them. Though the company may have created the message in part to attract free press, Chevy—as one of America’s most traditional automobile makers—was also clearly trying to pander to a younger crowd. (In a somewhat similar stunt, Verizon issued a press release in Morse code in February after the FCC voted to reclassify broadband as a utility. But at least that made sense, sort of: Verizon was trying to make the case that the ruling would hurt innovation.)
Sheer awkwardness may have caused Chevy to miss its mark. Emoji-themed things can be trendy: Yelp’s emoji search function last year was a big hit, and the emoji translation of Moby-Dick received almost $4,000 in Kickstarter funds. An all-emoji message from a corporation established in 1911? Not so much. The incoherent press release caused many to cringe from secondhand embarrassment. Even Chevy’s English-translated message is somewhat awkward: The company boasts that the 2016 Cruze is “the best thing since sliced bread for stylish and socially connected people,” and it literally uses the words “fun,” “good-looking,” and “cool!” in the post—exclamation point and all.
More entertaining than Chevy’s fumbling attempt to appear “cool!”, however, was the public attempt to decipher the message before yesterday’s official translation came out. A Car and Driver piece titled “A Millennial Attempts to Translate Chevy’s All-Emoji Press Release,” written by Robert Sorokanich, made what were perhaps the most amusing stabs. For a row of icons that Chevy claims means “Seating: Seats 5,” Sorokanich surmised: “You have no idea who the last person was that sat in your airline seat. Bring hand sanitizer.” And for the mysterious three globes: “The 2016 Chevy Cruze weighs as much as three earths.”
The translation is almost more logical than Chevy’s and certainly funnier. See for yourself—here’s the company's original emoji press release below.