How You Can Harness the Awesome Marketing Power of GIFs

July 28, 2017

So much power, so few frames. Learn what makes GIFs such high-performance marketing tools — and how to put them to work for you.

What is a GIF?

A GIF is essentially a tiny, lo-fi video on a loop. So small, in fact, that you could put it in practically any email, social media post, or chat window without breaking file size limitations.

Just look at those little guys work.

Why do marketers love GIFs?

Remember the hoopla that went down when the first “moving picture” hit the cinematheque? No? It’s okay, a lot of us have limited recollections of the 1890s. Basically, everyone was going crazy for it. See, prior to that we only had static images to look at (ipso facto, it was snoozeville). Naturally, this next step in our collective entertainment evolution was cause for great celebration.

The same goes with GIFs. Where previously we were forced to use static images due to file size constraints (again, zzzzzz) the development of GIFs means we can use a moving picture almost anywhere we can fit an image. And they are much more eye catching, which means audience members are more likely to pay attention to it, react to it, and share it.

GIFs bring the ? on Twitter…

… and on Tinder!


Are there any limitations of GIFs?

Sigh. Sadly, there are some limitations to this otherwise other-worldly marketing technology.

Here are a few:

  1. Despite being supported in a wide array of email clients, there are a few hold-outs. A major one is Outlook (‘07 through ‘13) and also the Windows Phone 7.
  2. You can’t use every color in the rainbow. (GIFs require that you stick to 256 bit.)
  3. There can be some legality issues if you’re using copyrighted content for marketing purposes. By all means, share those Kanye GIFs with your friends on Slack, but for commercial purposes you’ll want to make your own (or ask a design agency to do so for you).

Can you make a GIF yourself?

Don’t worry, this is only behind the scenes.

If you know how to use Photoshop, you can make a GIF from a video or series of photos in just a few steps. If you’re less than savvy with design software (no shame there!) and you’d rather use an app, you can peruse this list to find your new fave. With the right tools, you can create a GIF from video, photos, a recording of your screen, or any graphic illustration. Just make sure your source material isn’t copyrighted by someone else if you’re using it for marketing purposes.

Where can I find graphics and videos that aren’t copyrighted?

New sources are popping up all the time!

These days, there are all kinds of places. If you have a budget, you can buy royalty-free assets on any stock photo or stock video site. But if don’t have a lot of marketing pennies to rub together, you might consider the public domain. Although there are some restrictions (where marketing is concerned) on videos and graphics that contain recognizable individuals or trademarked elements, for the most part the public domain is a great place to source non-copyrighted video and graphic content to use as GIFs.

This short video will help you understand those limitations we mentioned:

We found the public domain video sources for some of the gifs in this article from Internet Archive, but many brands have found success sourcing gifs from proprietary visuals that come directly from their internal creative departments.

What if I’m not using it for marketing purposes?

The world is yours to explore.

In this case, it’s smooth sailing from here. Pop culture is yours to mine, repurpose, and share to your heart’s content, and often all it takes is a quick search on one of the handy sites on this list. Here are just a few examples of situations where a GIF can be used freely (with these tips on tone kept firmly in mind):

  • As a status update on your personal Facebook or Twitter account
  • As a birthday greeting in a group email thread at work
  • As a way to express yourself online when you want to convey an emotion precisely (and probably humorously)

All in all, GIFs are a great way to unite people in shared emotion, by allowing everyone to instantly understand the sentiment you’re feeling, and allowing them to reciprocate in kind. In an era in which words are constantly threatening to separate us from each other, a simple GIF can bring us together in shared humanity (so long as you don’t ask how it’s pronounced.)

Happy GIFing!