October 24, 2017
Brandspeak: 5 Ways Brands Can Use GIFs Without Looking Desperate
By Shanna Heaney

GIFs may be 30 years old, but they are just coming of age for advertising.

Last month, Giphy, the biggest proponent of the format, with more than 200 million users who pass around more than 1 billion GIFs a day, began testing sponsored GIFs in its searches. This came a few months after Facebook allowed GIFs for newsfeed-based ads.

But as a marketer, using GIFs carries some risk. The biggest is that you are trying too hard to be down with the kids and could wind up in a roundup like Brands Saying Bae that track instances of awkward communications.

How can you jump on the GIF bandwagon and avoid being labeled a desperate poseur? Consider five guidelines for using GIFs.

1. Make them emotional. Sure, GIFs can be funny but they’re also used to express emotion. Last year, people searched for 4 billion distinct thoughts, emotions and feelings on Tenor, another GIF platform. Showing a scowling Amy Poehler is often a more powerful method of expressing rage than words allow. Converse recently capitalized this emotion-based use of GIFs with a campaign that features Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown expressing emotions ranging from excited, to scared, to frustrated.

2. Incorporate your brand, but don’t go overboard. Creating a popular GIF is great, but it won’t do much for your brand if people don’t see the connection. Movie studios and TV properties have an advantage because of their access to characters such as Despicable Me‘s Minions. Minions are easily recognizable and users can understand the connection to the movie.

But others, like Kraft, have made a point of including logos in their GIFs, which might be counterproductive. Converse’s more subtle approach—showcasing Millie Bobby Brown wearing a Converse shirt in some GIFs. In others, she doesn’t.

3. Use moments from your video/TV campaigns. Not every video campaign is GIF-worthy, but if yours are funny or striking, like Geico’s or Calvin Klein’s, then chop them up and make GIFs out of them.

4. Think low-fi and handmade. GIFs don’t have to be slick. In fact, a certain folk art quality can work in a brand’s favor. Starbucks’ GIFs are successful in part because of their handmade quality, which users find less off-putting than those that look more “corporate.”

5. Don’t assume that they’re silly. Some brands you may not suspect, like GE and IBM, are big proponents of GIFs. These companies often use GIFs to show off new technologies or to convey facts, such as IBM’s “Arthur Ashe Stadium holds almost as many fans as there are trees in Central Park.”

The other assumption marketers make about GIFs is that only younger people use them. But a recent Harris Poll (commissioned by Tenor) found that 40% of people beyond the Millennial age use GIFs. Some 37% of people over 65 said they were more comfortable using visuals than they are talking over the phone.

In the increasingly competitive advertising landscape, innovators will come out ahead. As research shows, media consumers are embracing the Internet as a visual format.

GIFs represent the opportunity to incorporate a novel branding opportunity that although perhaps not a game-changer, have their own place in the new media landscape. For marketers, the solution is easy enough: think visual, and increasingly that means using GIFs.

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