The Last Emoji, an eye-catching yellow sculpture, standing at nine-feet-tall and weighing 900 pounds, now winks its eye — a wrecked tire — and shows off its bright red tongue — a car seat — to passersby in Wynwood.
But don’t let its whimsical appearance fool you. The piece, originally unveiled on Brickell Avenue by Sprint and Coconut Grove ad agency Alma Advertising, was designed to create awareness about a serious issue: texting and driving.
It’s an issue the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration points to as a key factor in the deaths of 3,129 people in distracted-driving crashes in 2014, the most recent year for such statistics.
“At Alma, we consider ourselves cultural curators, always looking for elements of the culture that can help us make a connection,” said Luis Miguel Messianu, creative chairman and CEO of Alma Advertising, who worked on the campaign to promote Sprint’s “Drive First” app for Android users, which locks the phone when the car reaches 10 mph, silences emails and text alerts, and sends automated messages stating that the driver is on the road and driving safely.
However, the concept of The Last Emoji was closely tied to initiatives celebrating April as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the sculpture was put on display at the end of the month “to close it out with a strong statement and continue the conversation into May.”
“The topic of texting and driving is so important and so relevant, but it’s been used and abused,” Messianu said. “So we wanted to talk about it in a new, creative way. And what better way than with emoticons, which have become an integral part of the social conversation?”
The sculpture, which was made by Wynwood artist Rudolph Kohn — who used parts from a crashed car found in a junkyard — has already drawn reactions from walking traffic in the downtown Miami area. Alma reports that it has tracked 1.7 million impressions on social media through the #SprintDriveSafe hashtag.
Andres Peña Becerra, 25, who is from Colombia but lives downtown, said The Last Emoji definitely made an impression on him.
“From far away, it looked like it was just a cool piece of art,” said Peña Becerra, who took a selfie with the sculpture. “But when I saw the piece from up-close, I had a feeling about the many accidents caused by texting and driving and their consequences. I thought about how an object like a car can be destroyed and become nothing … even though, in this case it became art. But I think, overall, it’s a great way to create a connection between art and real life and touch upon a topic everyone knows about with a little bit of humor by using an emoji.”
Brickell resident Laora Fishman, 41, who moved to Miami from California three years ago, also took a photo next to the sculpture and posted it on Instagram @luv2run25: “Had to stop and take a picture this morning … love having [The Last Emoji] in my neighborhood as a great reminder NOT to text and drive. This campaign is SO perfect for Miami and hopefully a great reminder and/or eye opener to the many risks of not paying attention while driving…”
“For us, the biggest reward is people’s interest in the artwork and the effectiveness of the campaign in the real world,” Messianu said.
“We knew it was a big idea when we saw people stopping and taking pictures next to the sculpture. We overheard people having conversations, sharing anecdotes about texting and driving and really connecting with the message. People are impacted by it, and that impact can be felt in the digital sphere as well.”
For Roni Singleton, a Sprint spokeswoman for the South Area, creating a dialogue about the dangers of texting and driving is what it’s all about, especially in Florida, one of the few states that does not consider texting while driving a primary offense.
“Everyone loves art, so we thought it was a great, visually interesting way to get people excited and talking about it. And as a company that’s deeply involved in the wireless business, we know there’s a responsibility that comes along with it and want to make sure we’re doing our part and using our voice to remind people using their devices on our network to do so as safely as possible,” she said.
“Plus, people love taking selfies and taking pictures next to interesting things, so social media is a great platform to get a conversation going about this.”
Messianu said Brickell was chosen as the first display location for the sculpture because of its high visibility for both pedestrians and low-speed traffic. Now The Last Emoji can be seen in Wynwood, outside at 571 NW 28th St.
“Our intention is to take the sculpture on tour to different areas in Miami before taking it to its final destination in the headquarters for Sprint in Kansas,” he said. “But really, this is only the beginning, and I don’t discount the creation of other sculptures, either. I doubt that you’ve seen the last of The Last Emoji.”
If you go
‘The Last Emoji’ is on display in Wynwood on Miami Ad School grounds, with access to the public, at 571 NW 28th St.