Entrepreneurship Tech Feb 22, 2016

Finally, Marijuana Gets Its Own Emoji

It’s about time marijuana got its own emoji.

At least, that’s the thought that James “Bo” Keyes, a cannabis quality assurance professional, approached Swyft Media with last year.  Swyft Media specializes in creating branded emojis, digital stickers, and other symbols for advertisers.  They’ve worked with companies such as Disney, Miller, Sony, Universal, and Coors to develop what they call “audience engagement campaigns”.  The company even produced “Popemoji” to commemorate Pope Francis’ visit to America last Fall.  Keyes met the Swyft Media team at a conference last year and they immediately clicked.

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James “Bo” Keyes, Creator of Emojiuana

Keyes had the knowledge of the industry and passion to drive the concept and creation of the marijuana-themed keyboard, while Swyft Media had the tools and team to make it happen.  Together, they released “Emojiuana” in early February.  The app, which offers a series of emojis, stickers and GIFs, is free for consumers to download for iOS or Android.  In the future, Emojiuana will allow cannabis brands to advertise to users through custom emojis on the platform.  Keyes explained, “this space will be made available to bring awareness to the industry leaders be it manufacturers, dispensers, bloggers, organizations, etc. Cannabis brands and companies will also be able to use the ‘kush keyboard’ for their own marketing efforts via social media, various communicative app platforms, and so on.”

There’s a part of me that wants to protect the representation of our community before the market is completely saturated with unoriginal, tacky options.

Considering the cannabis industry is still in its infancy, Bo Keyes could already be considered a veteran with only a few years of experience. In 2014, he founded MASS Certification, the first company dedicated to creating a quality management standard for the marijuana industry.  He has worked with hundreds of business owners and regulators to ensure safety and best practices throughout the cannabis supply chain.  Through his conversations with various clients, he identified a need for advertising cannabis brands through unique means, since marijuana’s status as an illegal drug on the federal level creates marketing challenges.  The recent shutdown of Facebook pages and Instagram accounts of many cannabis-based businesses is a prime example.  Keyes realized that business owners needed another way to foster social sharing around marijuana brands, especially in the distinctly tight-knit community of cannabis consumers.

img_7628Keyes himself is a creative marketing agent for his own personal brand. His “thc_dr” handles on Twitter and Instagram have loyal followers who “like” or “favorite” his posts with pictures of product.  Recently, he’s been promoting Emojiuana across his social platforms with the hashtag “#nomoremapleleaf”, referring to the maple leaf emoji that cannabis consumers have been using in lieu of an actual marijuana leaf icon.

Keyes would like to see Emojiuana grow organically, just like his personal brand, but he does not have a specific metric for measuring the app’s success.  He explained, “Kim Kardashian shut down the App Store with Kimoji.  Ford Focus had 40k downloads of their Focus Emoji App and it was considered a success. There are 86% of Americans living in a state with legal cannabis and [there is] a world trend of cannabis acceptance.  Oxford named an Emoji the word of the year?! That’s the world we live in now!”

Though the app can be monetized through advertisers, Keyes’ real primary focus is building a useful communication tool for cannabis users.  “I hope Emojiuana adds a new level-of-cool to the community, creates social connections, builds the culture and opens doors for others.”  Authenticity is the key to this goal.  “There’s a part of me that wants to protect the representation of our community before the market is completely saturated with unoriginal, tacky options.”

The icons in Emojiuana range from the trademark marijuana leaf to an assortment of weed paraphernalia.  Keyes consulted with connoisseurs to identify the essential list of emojis.   “The first 24 were cultivated, trimmed down, and cured just right for the cannaculture to enjoy,” he said.

img_4067Keyes’ favorite sticker in the series is the hooter, but, “the emojis are what the people want”, he told us.  “I love the fact that we now have weed leaf emojis, a legit
torch, straight shooter glass piece, purp nugs, and blunts.  I love it all!”

The Emojiuana app is available through Google Play and iTunes.  You can contact Keyes at thc@dr.com.