Old school film projector
Marketing Content Strategy

The Magic of Moving Pictures: Using Gif Images to Expand on Video Content

6 Minute Read

Imagine you’re a content strategist or editor managing submissions from a cohort of writers. You encourage your team to be creative wherever they can, and they respond in kind. An aspiring graphic designer sends you the occasional infographic. An amateur filmmaker records some clips for his pieces. A newer writer on your team starts peppering their work with gif images.

Well, that’s certainly creative . . . but is it useful?

You bring the gif-laden work to your team lead, and she’s just as conflicted as you. On the one hand, you’re having no trouble reading through this writer’s content, and the gifs he’s included are high quality and add interest. On the other hand, you both can’t quite shake the feeling that you’re reading a Tumblr blog, and that’s not quite the picture of authority you’re trying to convey to your audience.

So what do you do?

Gifs, despite actually being an old format for the web, have come into increasing vogue with the marketing community. Despite their initial rise to popularity with younger audiences on social platforms, the technicalities of the format give marketers a lot of latitude to create original content that’s easily digestible in an attention-starved age. And many brands are using this to their advantage in their content strategies.

A Brief History of Gifs

The gif image is actually a very old format by internet standards. Originally invented in 1987, the gif was intended to help store and transfer color images more efficiently during the internet’s developing years. By 1989, an updated version that supported animated sequences of images was released, and became the format we know and love today.

So gifs aren’t new. They’re a nearly 30-year-old technology. Why are marketers just starting to get on board?

While the gif itself hasn’t changed much over the years, the infrastructure of the internet and how people interact with it has. The gif initially was intended to be a workaround for internet connections that couldn’t stream video, instead opting for glossy-yet-grainy clips like this early one, coined by artist Olia Lialina in 1997:

Image attribution: Olia Lialina

Gif attribution: Olia Lialina

For the most part, early gifs were used as ways to incorporate simple graphics on web pages. This would eventually develop into animated effects that became popular on sites such as MySpace and Geocities to add a little extra sparkle to profiles (or a whole lot of sparkle in some cases). It was an exciting new tool, and users couldn’t get enough.

Today, however, the gif has undergone a new evolution. With the modern prevalence of high bandwidth connections, the gif has become a preferred method of sharing video clips, sometimes with some additional editing for added effect. The clips you see your friends and family share today of scenes from the Harry Potter movies wouldn’t have run in a timely fashion on the internet of the 90s, if at all. But today, they serve as a vibrant format for online content.

Making it Brand Relevant

This is all well and good, but as a content strategy lead for your brand, you have to ask yourself: what do sparkling web pages and movie clips have to do with my brand? Don’t they just make us seem juvenile?

Well, sometimes. But that isn’t all that gifs are good for.

A number of brands have started using gifs to connect with their audiences in new ways that delight and engage. The most prevalent space for this currently is social media, where brands can take advantage of widespread support for gifs on the most popular platforms.IHOP Twitter

Image attribution: IHOP (via Twitter)

Gifs don’t always have to be humorous or distracting. Sometimes a simple, on-brand animation can add a little interest for your audience. Take IHOP (@IHOP) for example, a brand with a simple love of breakfast that it expresses through . . . well, gifs of breakfast (that also happen to drive higher engagement than many of its regular images).Image attribution: Marie Claire

Gif attribution: Marie Claire

IBM on Twitter

On a more creative front, fashion brands often enjoy using gifs to demonstrate their brand’s aesthetic or announce new products. Take, for example, this “twirl and twinkle” gif from the Gap, or Marie Claire’s page that’s dedicated to gif-ified sneakers and sandals.

But this doesn’t mean gifs are relegated entirely to B2C brands or young audiences. IBM (@IBM) is one of the best examples of this, with a Twitter page that is chock-full of custom animations, how tos, and quotes that have all been given a face-lift with gifs.

Using Moving Pictures for Your Brand

To start using gifs for your own brand, here are a few ideas and guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Start with video, end with gifs. The easiest way to start using gifs for your brand is to turn existing video content into gif images using services like Giphy. Start by trying to highlight particularly interesting portions of your most popular videos, or by making gif trailers for new video content that you want to tease on social.
  • Be concise and consider size. One of the deceptive elements of gifs is that it’s an image format being used popularly for video. This means that, by modern standards, it’s not the most efficient format. Gifs that look great and run smoothly can end up requiring huge downloads (like this popular clip of a new video game found on Reddit that topped out at around 110 mbs). If your gifs are running longer than 10 seconds or taking up enormous amounts of bandwidth, using a video format like HTML5 Video can save your audience a headache.
  • Test your gifs’ responsiveness. There are a lot of fun gif applications across social media, webpages, and even email. But just because you can use a format in this spaces doesn’t mean it will always work. Always make sure to test the responsiveness of websites and emails that use gifs to ensure that every use case has a good experience before committing to gifs as a central piece of content. Not every gif looks good when resized, and not every email browser supports gif format images.

Gifs, while currently popular among social media denizens and younger audiences, are truly just a tool at marketers’ disposal. Presentation, brand alignment, and relevance to your content strategy are all elements your team can control, and this can provide an easy means of bring video style content to your audiences. Just remain thoughtful, be concise, and be strategic about when and how you use gifs. From there, it’s up to your audience to view and enjoy your stories.

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IBM logo attribution: IBM (via Twitter)
Featured image attribution: Marcin Wichary from San Francisco, USA

Kyle Harper is a writer, editor, and marketer who is passionate about creative projects and the industries that support them. He is a human who writes things. He also writes about things, around things, for things, and because of things. He's worked with brands like Hasbro, Spotify, Tostitos, and the Wall Street Journal, as well as a bunch of cool startups. The hardest job he's ever taken was the best man speech for his brother's wedding. No challenge is too great or too small. No word is unimportant. Behind every project is a story. What's yours?

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