The GIF, pronounced “JIF” in case you weren’t sure, was invented in 1987 in order for weather maps to save bandwidth on a dial-up Internet connection. So, why are we talking about GIFs now, in 2015?
This format, a combination of pictures that create an endlessly looping, moving image, has been around for a while. However, the recent introduction of autoplay and emphasis on short-form video on many social media platforms has made GIFs relevant again—this time as a new and unique advertising tool.
GIFs, and other short-form animated content, are perfectly aligned to be advertisements on most social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram now all have an autoplay feature where video plays automatically, without user action. Additionally, this short-form moving image is just the right length to be uploaded to Instagram and short enough that users will actively pay attention. GIFs can also be directly embedded into a tweet or a Facebook post, making the viewing process user-friendly.
GIF courtesy of Giphy
Instead of advertising through words and still frames, some brands have started to work with Giphy and Tumblr to create branded GIF content. Brands like DiGiorno Pizza, seen above, have used these animated loops on Twitter and found that they increased engagement among followers.
Cinemagraph courtesy of Brandfolder
A specific type of GIF, the cinemagraph, has gained popularity on Instagram recently. This type of GIF is a still image with one animated component, and was popularized by digital artist Kevin Burg and photographer Jamie Beck.
The cinemagraph is seemingly hypnotic and draws consumer attention when scrolling down one’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram news feed. Toyota, Heineken, and Gilt have all used cinemagraph advertisements on Instagram and many other brands are following in their footsteps on Facebook as well.
With the advent of autoplay and the infiltration of advertising content on social media platforms, the use of GIFs and cinemagraphs can be a strategic way for brands to differentiate themselves and capture consumers’ attention. However, it is important for brands not to abuse and overuse GIFS and instead use them only when it is the best way to tell their story.