They’re funny, they’re annoying, they’re just plain ubiquitous. If you’ve spent more than five minutes on the Internet, it’s likely you’ve run across animated GIFs—the small, looping video clips that have become a new way to communicate online. At one time, they were considered old-fashioned, hackneyed, and finished, but GIFs have survived multiple eras of the World Wide Web to become some of the most frequently shared content across message boards, social media platforms, news articles, and even text messages.
Whether that’s a good thing of a bad thing has been hotly debated. Fans and critics can scarcely even agree on how to pronounce GIF! So how has this controversial file format become such a common Internet shorthand, and how can GIFs benefit your brand?
The history of the GIF stretches back 30 years. A programmer named Steve Wilhite was trying to solve the problem of displaying nice-looking images online that didn’t require a long time to load using the slow-speed, dialup modems of the era. The solution he devised was called Graphic Interchange Format (GIF) and allowed 256 colors to be represented in a compressed format compatible with the Web. Quickly, the format became a popular way for Web designers to create tiny, looping animations in the ‘90s. As the Internet continued to evolve, GIFs such as the commonplace “Under Construction” animation became strongly associated with this primitive boom period in Web design.
Animated GIFs were shared in chat rooms throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s, but they didn’t really re-emerge as a cultural force until 2010, when they began showing up on Tumblr. Reddit users began to challenge one another to create the funniest or weirdest GIFs, and they began to be shared across the Internet. Today, they’re as mainstream as the Web itself.
Why? Well, consider the old saying: “A picture is worth 1,000 words.” An animation might well be worth far more than that. GIFs often communicate complex ideas more simply than words are able to, including tone, context, humor, and community. They became widely used and popular for the same reasons that the comics pages were the most widely read in the newspaper: They’re typically good for a quick laugh, and it requires less effort to comprehend pictures than it does to comprehend sentences and paragraphs.
So what use are GIFs to businesses? Well, GIFs are created to be shared, and the best of them go viral. This means that they make their way into our chat windows and social media posts very organically, passed from person to person and even stranger to stranger. In the ‘90s, 7-Up’s “Cool Spot” mascot became one of the first branded GIFs to go viral. 20 years later, “viral GIFs have become part of many brand’s strategies.
There are a number of reasons why animated GIFs make sense for many brands. Most importantly, people only remember 20 percent of the text they read without visuals. GIFs are good at grabbing people’s attention and keeping it, and done right, they can communicate more information faster and more memorably than text. They are mobile friendly, which is critical as a majority of Web users now access the Internet from their phones more often than their computers. GIFs allow brands to tell short little stories, making them highly engaging. And best of all, they’re far cheaper to produce than video!
It’s important to recognize that even if a brand is not able to create its own GIFs, there is a very large stock already out there in the wild. There are GIFs for every occasion that can be modified to communicate something about your brand. As highly shareable content, GIFs can instantly spice up your social posts, email marketing, and even outdoor advertising. Be careful not to overuse GIFs or use them as a replacement for good, old-fashioned content. And if you’re not sure what you’re doing, it’s always advisable to contact the experts—like me!
Studio Brand Collective’s creative and design teams grew up with GIFs. We understand how they’re used and why. We’ve helped many Houston businesses communicate with these short, looped videos, and we can help you, too! Let’s discuss how. Call us today at 713.863.1141 to learn how we can make GIFs a part of your comprehensive digital marketing strategy!