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25th Jun 2017

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Finland brands itself with sauna and headbanger emojis

  • Sauna, the Nokia 3310 model, and a headbanger: quintessentally Finnish according to its foreign ministry (Photo: Bruno Leo Ribeiro)

Finland is trying to improve its brand among teenagers by publishing a set of emojis – pictograms or images often used in online chats, e-mails, text and social media messages.

The Finnish ministry of foreign affairs announced the set of “country-themed emojis” on Wednesday (4 November) in a press release, saying it “is the first country in the world” to do so.

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European countries generally do well in nation branding. In the most recent country brand index of FutureBrand, 13 of the top-20 countries are European, with Switzerland (2), Germany (3) and Sweden (4) performing best (Japan was number 1). Finland stood at place 13.

The emojis that have been released so far are images of a Nokia phone from the early 2000s, a headbanger, and two people in a sauna.

“Quite many countries tend to forget the teenagers and young people in their country branding”, Petra Theman, head of public diplomacy at Finland's foreign affairs ministry, told EUobserver.

Originally from Japan, emojis have become a popular means of expression across the world since hundreds of them were encoded in the so-called Unicode standard in 2010.

The standardisation allowed people using different devices to still use the same emojis – although their appearance may differ depending on the operating system of the computer, tablet or smartphone.

There is now even an annual World Emoji Day (17 July) and an online catalogue.

Another factor of the emojis' success was when they were included in the operating system of Apple's iPhone in 2011, and other systems followed. Now, many smartphones allow its users to use emojis with the press of a button.

However, it will be less simple for the Finnish symbols.

Theman told this website that Finland will actually not be applying for adoption in Unicode, a process which its governing body, the Unicode Consortium, says “can take two years or more”.

And even after characters are added to the encoding standard, they won't be able to be used until software builders update their systems.

“They will not be on your keyboard” in for example a message service like Telegram or Whatsapp, Theman noted.

Rather, the Finnish emojis will be “stickers”, which are basically giant-size emojis, but rather than encoded text these are actual images.

Theman said that beyond the three emojis that were announced, it has not yet been decided which ones will be in the final package of over 30 emojis, which will be released for download on 1 December 2015.

So are Finns so different from other Europeans, or even everyone in the world, that they need their own characters to express their feelings?

“It's not that we are that different, but I think many nations would be happy to have their own emojis”, said Theman.

With the popular Nokia mobile phone, Finns were early adopters of the short message service, or SMS, which pushed them to communicate non-verbally, said Theman, using emoticons like the smiley.

Earlier this year, photo networking site Instagram released some figures about its users and noted that emoji use in Finland is the highest in a 14-country sample.

Sixty three percent of Instagram texts from Finland included emojis, while that percentage was only 39 percent in Japan, the birthplace of the emoji.

Users from Italy, France, UK, and Germany included emojis between 45 and 50 percent of the time.

The Finnish emojis were created by Brazilian designer Bruno Leo Ribeiro, who previously designed emojis of famous musicians.

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