Daemen “Williemojis” Garner 330 Million (and Counting) Views Worldwide

By | March 29, 2022

“Williemojis” – small digital icons, known as GIFs, of Daemen’s mascot Willie the Wildcat – are gaining popularity worldwide. 

Over just a three-day period from March 22 to 24, a birthday-themed Willie ranked second on the website GIPHY, registering more than 151 million views and appearing on the front page.

Even before this sudden jump in popularity, Williemojis – used primarily in social media and text messages – had racked up hundreds of millions of views. The phenomenon has led to international exposure for Daemen. 

The concept and original illustrations are the brainchild of Cameron Garrity ‘13, a graphic designer in Daemen’s Department of Marketing and Communications. 

With the first batch released in the summer of 2020, and with new Williemojis released regularly, the graphics have started to populate automatically in many common internet searches related to pop culture, memes, emotions, and current events. 

We sat down with Garrity to learn more about the backstory of these fun, successful GIFs.

What inspired you to create Williemojis and when did you start introducing them?

The concept began during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Garrity animating a Williemoji

We did not have access to our mascot costume on campus at the time, so I began to draw an animated version of it, which later evolved into a puppet mascot that is now used for our marketing efforts as well.

We created a series of Willie demonstrating five common tips for staying safe during the pandemic, which included hand-washing, and more. 

The initial illustrations garnered a positive reaction that led us to think about making an ongoing series to use long-term.

We officially launched the first library of roughly 40 Williemojis on World Emoji Day on July 17, 2020.

How did the word Williemojis spread in popularity?

Word spread about Williemojis thanks to a combination of wonderful word of mouth throughout the Daemen community and our social media accounts. 

We then created images with a broader appeal – such as movie references – and tagged them in a way so that they would pop up in many different searches, even beyond Daemen. 

Cam Garrity

Why do you think they have become so popular?

We created Williemojis to reflect feelings, pop culture, life events, holidays and times of the year. For instance, we released one of Willie shivering with icicles hanging off him right before the bitter cold season in Buffalo – that one was very popular to say the least. 

They are designed to capture emotions so that people can connect with the character. There’s a lot of personality in each image.  

As an alum of Daemen’s Graphic Design Program, I learned about design and marketing strategies.

Daemen’s animation program was introduced when I was a student and I took as many storyboarding classes as I possibly could where I learned about capturing succinct moments and using gestural lines to create character expression that is resonant with an audience. It’s those storytelling and drawing skills that I’ve been able to apply in creating  Williemojis. 

Recently, my favorite illustrator Joe Mathieu, who has illustrated nearly 200 books for Sesame Street since 1971, complimented the Williemoji series, noting the quality of the character and line work. For me, it was a huge professional and creative milestone.