GIFs, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: 1. You make me laugh, 2. trend-forward, and 3. an easy way to engage or convey emotion (again, mostly laughter) with my target audience — and many more, but who wants to count all day?
Here at SEJ, we respond to each other on Slack or email with GIFs. (This is a favorite).
If your engagement levels are at an all-time low and you’re dreaming about higher click-through rates, page views, and time on page, you need to rethink your marketing strategy now.
While I never really need an excuse to muse over all the best GIFs found in my Giphy library, Tumblr, or Reddit, now is a perfect time to share a few of my favorite finds from my most beloved brands. To help guide you, I’ve stalked some of the most in-demand social accounts, email newsletters, websites, and all forms of visual marketing for ways they use GIFs not only internally but actually use with their customers.
Fear not, it’s not just mesmerizingly humourous clickbait; all of these marketing examples are actually used by brands today.
Below you’ll find some of the best marketing strategies that quickly won my heart and the GIFs that they are customizing for each marketing channel — and, boy, are they good. Think: email marketing that will keep you clicking past the preview screen, and tweets to bump up engagement all at the end of the day.
How GIFs Have Evolved Our Visual Language
These days, we see GIFs just about everywhere. These animated pops of delight are seen in our Instagram feeds, email newsletters, and even on websites. According to The New York Times, 23 million GIFs are posted on Tumblr every day. Facebook gets more than 5 million daily. Slack sees more than 5 million GIFs each month.
It’s not surprising that millions of people feel connected to their favorite GIFs. It seems like we know our favorites like we do our best friends. We’ve been viewing GIFs (Graphic Interchange Format) since they were first introduced to the world by CompuServe in 1987. For those of you 80’s babies (wave your hands in the air 🙌), you may remember these oh-so-popular animated GIFs of dancing baby and waving flags.
Here is a short video to show you the history of GIFs:
Now, with Facebook supporting GIFs in the news feed, Twitter removing GIFs from the 140 character limit, and technology continuing to evolve, brands are finding new ways to communicate with consumers.
Giphy’s chief operating officer, Adam Leibsohn, stated “We are starting to see this behavior where people are using content and culture to communicate—they’re not using words anymore. When they’re doing that, there’s an opportunity for that culture to come from a brand.”
Turns out, Giphy is onto something. GIFs are turning into a whole new visual language, one driven entirely by emotion. Is there anything that can instantly communicate how this cat video makes you feel? I think not.
The devices we use daily (smartphones, tablets, etc.) are changing. We used to talk on the phone, then we would text, and now it’s evolved to using emojis. 😎 As our attention spans get short and technology changes, GIFs allow us quickly to share emotions and information with one piece of content.
Some GIFs can tell a story, start a conversation, or explain information (serious stuff, too!), and others make you laugh. Either way, it’s inspiring to watch how content creators are finding their niche.
How to Leverage GIFs to Humanize Your Brand?
Gut reactions happen in three seconds or less.
Think about how you feel when you look at this DiGiorno Pizza Twitter post. Now, think how those feelings would affect your buying decisions.
— DiGiorno Pizza (@DiGiornoPizza) April 7, 2016
Using GIFs should accomplish two things: It should make customers feel something, and it should make them act.
Riding a roller coaster, meditating, volunteering, exercising, and making someone else smile are things that evoke emotion. Brands can use GIFs to strategically stimulate emotional triggers that can then engineer consumers’ feelings to potentially influence how they make decisions. Research suggests that the emotional response to brand ads have more influence on purchase intent than the actual content of the ad.
In an analysis by BuzzSumo in 2014 of the 10,000 stories with the most shares — awe, laughter, and amusement were the three most popular emotions. This made up 57% of the content surveyed. GIFs that are funny, awe-inspiring, that can spark conversations between friends is what is going to work.
To hear some researchers at Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Glasgow tell us, human emotion is based on four basic emotions: happy, sad, afraid/surprised, and angry/disgusted. And, of course, it probably doesn’t surprise you that the vast majority of marketers want to appeal to the happy emotions. Then, they end up tip-toeing around the leftover emotions like they don’t want to wake mom and dad. Not fun.
It makes sense: Even big brands can’t consistently hit the mark is very difficult. Upworthy had close to 90 million uniques in November 2013; however, January 2016, the site had less than 13 million uniques. The volume of content they had to compete with was just too difficult. It’s important to find balance with other emotional triggers.
The solution? There’s no black and white answer. As marketers, picking the perfect emotion for our audience is half the battle (which actually sounds kind of awesome to me.)
The Checklist You NEED to Think About Before Launching Your GIF
Chances are you’ve probably already joined the cult of GIF lovers #guilty. If you’re curious to see whether or not GIFs are for your brand, start with this checklist of the basics.
- Align GIF creation with your brand guidelines and style guide. Yes, I’m talking fonts, color palettes, the whole shebang!
- Find ways to educate your audience by creating GIFs that act as a how-to guide.
- Think about what platform (Vine, Instagram, Facebook) you’ll be using these GIFs first, then decide if there are any key influencers you can partner with to extend your reach.
- Don’t forget about the subtle elements of cinemagraphs that make one element of an image move. This is super effective for fashion brands that we’ll see later in the examples.
- Repurpose your best content from commercials in a GIFy-kind-of-way.
I swapped my static images for these dynamic, playful looping GIFs. The result? Not only did I see increased engagement immediately, but I was thrilled with my ease it was to make them.
But don’t take my word for it: Keep reading to find out which GIFs brands are using, see why they worked, and whether you, too, might soon become a GIF convert.
Ready to start getting GIFfy with your target audience? Scroll to watch, laugh, cry, and engage with my favorite picks.
15 GIFs by Brands to Inspire
1. NPR’s animated map of the rise of the Islamic state.
2. The Huffington Post and fashion editors team up to show us five ways to wear a scarf.
3. Kraft creates custom content for their Tumblr audience.
4. Typeform uses GIFs in their hiring form to add an element of delight. (Hint: Click “Work at Typeform” at the bottom).
5. Ben & Jerry’s announced on their blog that the BRRR-ito with two scoops topped with chocolate chip cookie crumbles, and fudge drizzle wrapped in a waffle is BACK! Can you tell I’m a fan?
6. Stuart Weitzman begins his visual storytelling with the homepage of his website then continues the journey throughout his social.
7. Starbucks offers a more handmade feel to their GIFs on their social.
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) May 18, 2016
8. General Electric’s Tumblr page is dedicated to teaching the millennial generation about science through GIFs.
9. Marie Claire introduces new products on Twitter using GIFs.
— Marie Claire (@marieclaire) August 16, 2015
10. Denny’s uses humor by repurposing their food throughout their blog. As you can see here by these moonwalking sandwich shoes. I’ll admit, I’m a little jealous.
11. NASA uses GIFs to educate their Twitter audience on new studies.
— NASA (@NASA) May 25, 2016
12. Made.com uses GIFs to share freebies like this free delivery surprise I got in my inbox.
13. Kate Spade is also big on email marketing campaigns featuring GIFs like this confetti explosion I was gifted.
14. And, check out their counterpart Jack Spade.
15. Charlotte Tilbury offers gorgeous beauty advice in her email newsletters with help from GIFs.
So, let’s be real — using GIFs is pretty darn fun. You have your own looping video to carry out whatever feeling or emotion you want your brand to convey in a few short seconds. Plus, they are quick to make and you can add fun filters. There are a lot more real than other forms of marketing. Now that GIFs have infiltrated the political campaigns, it’s safe to say they are in for the long haul.
So open up your brand to the idea using GIFs and start adding these to your email campaigns, social posts, and websites. Promise, they’ll make it worth your while.
Subscribe to SEJ
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!