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The Convince & Convert Editor in Chief knew what she was doing when she tapped me to write the “GIFs for Marketers” post. I have recently relinquished my “emoji queen” title to accept the GIFs-Guru-In-Residence here at C&C. It’s true. I think in GIFs, and I won’t respond to a team email without one. Once you read this, I’m hoping you don’t, either.
What are GIFs?
GIFs are easy-to-share videos, looping endlessly. They offer emotional weight or context in a world of non-verbal communication. GIFs are universal in today’s digital language. They’re available to use on your mobile messenger app, in social comments, and sometimes an entire social posts strategy (Tumblr).
If you’re not convinced yet of their importance, then consider this: the use of GIFs in social media is a Shorty award category.
GIFs have a cousin you should also know about: the Sticker.
What is a sticker?
A sticker is technically a GIF format, with (at least 20%) transparency around the edges. Stickers are flat images that can be animated. They’re more prevalent on messaging apps and Instagram stories, are more often illustrated, and are meant to add a little flair of emotion.
A Little History of GIFs
In human years, GIF, which is shorthand for graphics interchange format, would be a Millennial. Internet history traces the GIF back to 1987 and CompuServ. For a couple of decades, GIFs were these cute little animated icons seen around the world wide web. Certainly, not a threat to the prime cultural position GIF enjoys now. But when Web 2.0 (in the early 2000s) birthed YouTube and the rise of video creators, followed by the rapid adoption of social media and smartphones, the GIF emerged as a phenomenon.
Tumblr gave a home to the emergence of reaction GIFs, inspiring creators to identify the perfect video sequence for every possible reaction. The creators and writers at BuzzFeed used GIFs from day one, both on the site and in related social media posts. BuzzFeed’s popularity helped propel GIFs into the mainstream for internet users and social media culture. Today, GIPHY, Tenor, and Gfycat host and index billions of user-generated GIFs that power GIF search and discovery on mobile phones and across social networks.
The GIF Pronunciation Debate
The ongoing debate about GIF pronunciation divides between team hard “g” or team soft “g”. Brilliantly, GIPHY teamed up with JIF peanut butter to settle this, in GIFs, once and for all.
Can I use GIFs for marketing?
Short answer: of course you can!
Longer answer: Yes! GIFs are primed for marketing.
GIFs are extremely versatile in both content and how they are deployed. Using GIFs is another way to integrate more video into your overall post-type mix. Beyond social media, GIFs are used in blogs, email, direct messages, and even website backgrounds.
And audiences engage with GIFs. Omnicore found that tweets with GIFs get 55% more engagement than those without — but only 2% of all tweets contain GIFs.
GIFs work because they’re simple — no audio, just video (some with words on the graphic). They’re creative, without overthinking. You don’t need video clips to work from. A whole genre of artistic animated illustration GIFs by talented creators have taken prominent positions and rival video clips for the most-viewed GIFs.
Marketers have a variety of options for how to integrate GIFs into their content stack:
- Educate and inform
- Show off product
- Quick replies to social mentions and comments
- Demonstrate simple steps
- Give users something to share spontaneously
- Add movement and interest, especially in traditionally static channels, like email
Why Use GIFs in Marketing
Culturally, Americans use GIFs most often to express two commonly spoken sentiments; either to say “I Love You” or “Happy Birthday.”
Recently, we have much more to say. The cultural awakening and events of the past year elevated the advocacy brand “IntoAction,” and their here-and-now illustrated GIFs to the most-viewed partner brand on GIPHY with 21.4B (that’s billion) views in 2020.
Audiences like them because they’re short — most GIFs are less than 4 seconds long — and add context and emotion. GIFs humanize social accounts by being relatable.
I admit I think in GIFs, whether from my favorite TV show or a sports highlight package. Nine times out of ten, when I search for a GIF with an emotional or savvy response, I can find a GIF that matches my exact tone and mood. There is a GIF for anything and everything.
GIFs work for marketing because they:
- Aid spontaneity and real-time response
- Inject personality into the brand tone and identity
- Support storytelling, but with fewer words
- Are a safe way to test courageous content that is hyper-relevant and inspirational.
If we understand where and how marketers can use GIFs, why aren’t more marketers using GIFs in content?
Don’t let a lack of branded content or copyright concerns dissuade you from beginning to use GIFs. If your Legal department has already cautioned the use of GIFS from copyrighted content, have no fear. Designing a branded set of GIFs and Stickers is a relatively straightforward creative project.
How to Create GIFs for Your Brand
Convince & Convert Consulting recently worked with the University of Arizona on the launch of the COVID Watch app, timed as university students came back to campus in the fall of 2020. From the messaging and audience research, we knew students would embrace iconography that was updated to reflect current events (diversity and masks were a must). In our creative brainstorm, we identified a variety of custom icons, Stickers, and GIFs for the COVID Watch Arizona campaign.
Step 1: Build a creative brief.
We wanted the icon assets to be available to the University of Arizona social team to create their social posts, so we enlisted a series of artists to help us bring these icons to life. Our creative brief included creative identity, campaign messaging, existing iconography and images, and links to GIFs and Sticker styles we wanted to imitate. Our team shared the brief with artists selected from Fiverr, Lightboard, and Ghost Ranch. Using three different creative resources, we tripled the options and design styles that the university would use across the campaign.
Step 2: Start with an icon set for the brand.
A set of custom vector icons are the jumping-off point for your GIFs and Stickers. Approving the illustrations before they became animated saved us (and the artists) time overall. Give the icons to your social team to build additional social graphics that tie into the GIFs and Stickers. Icon sets can be shareable with influencers who co-create content with your brand.
Step 3: Animate for impact.
After approving vector icons, artists went to work to animate them to match the styles and formats we needed. In our brief, we asked for:
Illustrated Stickers that emphasize campaign messaging in both handwriting and cartoon/illustration styles. Animation and movement that enhanced the design were a must.
Animated GIFs of illustrations that promoted campaign messages and tied into the iconic design elements of the brand.
Step 4: Build a Creators Account on GIPHY.
Once we had the final files from our designers, we uploaded the .gif format files to the brand account on GIPHY and added a branded set of hashtags for discoverability. Since we had the account verified during the creation stage, the new assets were available almost immediately on Instagram when we searched for the University of Arizona.
To create and optimize a GIPHY account, follow these steps:
- Create a basic GIPHY account.
- Upload 5 GIFS (these do not have to be original) and apply for a creator’s account
- Organize the account page by using playlists and categories. Take cues from brand accounts like LEGO GIFs for best practices.
- Use SEO best practices for tagging GIFs with keywords to aid in identification and discovery.
Outsourcing GIFs and Stickers’ design allowed us to have more looks and ways to support the campaign. When searching for an artist or ideas to help your campaign, don’t skip past the GIPHY Artists Network. GIPHY recognizes its best and brightest creators annually, most of whom take on custom client work for as little as $100-$300 per project.
As social platforms and audience preferences continue to prioritize video-like formats and emotional resonance, marketers must actively use GIFs as part of the content mix. If GIFs from your industry or keywords stink, then make it a priority to create GIFs and stickers that shine.
Or, you can do what I do and adopt Moira Rose as your default character. With 981 GIFs tagged “Moira” by CBC, I am sure there will always be a Moira suitable for all-team emails.