Monotype Image Holdings, a juggernaut of the type world, is shelling out $27 million on Swyft Media, a New York-based ad startup focused peddling stickers and emojis. Yes, a 125-year-old type company is buying a bunch of emojis.
A historic type company acquiring an emoji advertising company speaks to the communicative power the little pictograms have gained in recent years. Emojis are almost like modern-day hieroglyphics, and there are more commonalities between type design and emoji design than meet the eye: both require creating elegant, small-scale symbols that communicate emotion with lines and shapes. “Stickers and emojis have become an extension of fonts,” Evan Wray, founder of Swyft Media, tells Co.Design.
But while Monotype’s interest in Swyft stemmed from a desire to gain more traction in the mobile space, and to capitalize on the growing popularity of messaging apps, Monotype didn’t entirely buy Swyft to cash in on emojis; it wants to bring custom typefaces to your texting apps.
“At Monotype, we always dreamed of a day when people could text in customized typefaces. But we didn’t have the relationships with messaging platforms to make it happen,” Doug Shaw, CEO of Monotype, tells Co.Design. When Monotype came across Swyft–which helps messaging apps like Kik, KakaoTalk, TextPlus, and Viber generate revenue by providing branded emojis and sticker packs–they realized a partnership with the company would generate connections with these messaging companies and their 2 billion users. Swyft, which creates stickers with an in-house design team, has worked with more than 300 brands so far, including Sony, MGM, SEGA, Dreamworks, and Hearst. The deal allows Monotype to move “down market,” meaning it expands its reach to younger generations–80% of sticker users are under 21, according to Wray.
From a design standpoint, emojis and typography serve a similar purpose: “Monotype has always been about enabling communication, letting you come across with the right emotion,” Shaw says. And, as Fortune put it in a recent profile of Swyft, the company is “turning emoji into cash.” Branded sticker packs and emojis let messaging apps generate revenue without having to stick ads into the middle of personal text conversations. Users will pay $1.99 to download a sticker pack of images from Disney’s Frozen, for example, or a Betty Boop pack (one of Swyft’s most popular offerings). When Gwen Stefani released her new album last year, Swyft created a free album-themed sticker pack that served as an ad campaign, and was downloaded almost a million times. Brands will often pay up to $250,000 for such campaigns.
In the coming months, Monotype hopes having Swyft as a subsidiary will allow them to partner with messaging apps to provide consumers with customized typefaces while texting. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be texting in Monotype’s archive of historic typefaces (Gil Sans, Times New Roman, Franklin Gothic). “This young market isn’t craving Helvetica,” Shaw says. Their customized offerings will be “more emotion-based,” Shaw says. So if you’re a teenager who likes heavy metal, you might be able to download a particularly brutal-looking typeface pack, along with metal-themed emojis. Patriots fans might be able download the Patriots font and send their friends Tom Brady stickers. Hopefully, for design nerds, they’ll throw a Helvetica pack somewhere in there, too.