Can You Market in a GIF?

Giphy posts are popping up everywhere. Typically, they’re just frivolous memes. But in some cases, they represent earned media. People capture cultural references, from movies, music, and TV shows, and share them. It’s great marketing for Hollywood. But can marketers of other products also use this to their advantage? 

A visit to giphy.com reveals a variety of trending themes. These include the usual suspects — a marathon of cats, and as of lately, “silly pandas.” But there is also brand-affiliated content buried among the easy amusements. In many cases, it got there organically by achieving cultural relevance. 

Take, for instance, Captain Obvious, the mascot of Hotels.com. The droll, bearded, overdressed, alleged captain serves a conversational purpose. He can be used to convey sarcastic hand gestures, a funny tone, or a “duh” sentiment. But the Crispin Porter + Bogusky agency-created character is also a stand-in for a large and profitable travel technology company. The nonexistent captain has over 400,000 Twitter followers and a dedicated Giphy channel with far more posts than you would expect, totalling 360.3M GIF views. 

This is a coveted spot for a brand to occupy. It means that people are talking about your company’s creative. The marketing has transcended the realms of billboards, pop-ups, and unwanted stimuli and made its way into the intimacy of socialization. And it’s spreading. This may not have an immediate or easily measurable effect on conversion rates, but it’s a definite win for brand equity. 

Any active user of Facebook Messenger can attest to the popularity of GIFs. Sometimes, normal conversations gradually descend into an endless exchange of short, looping images. In other instances, GIFs are just used to pepper the back-and-forth, providing an expressive flavor. Perhaps this compensates for a long-standing problem with email and digital communications — sometimes, it’s next to impossible to discern a person’s tone. 

According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, recipients are able to figure out the intended tone only 56 percent of the time. GIFs might help to fill in the missing paralinguistic information. Or they might just add to the ambiguity. (What value or clarity does a “silly panda” bring to a personal or professional discussion?) 

Either way, GIFs are extremely popular. It’s quantifiable. Giphy has 300 million daily active users and the company raised capital at a reported $600 million valuation in late 2016. Tenor, another GIF database, was acquired by Google in March of last year. 

How can marketers get in on the action? 

According to Matthew Hunt, a digital marketing consultant, image SEO is key. 

In an interview with DMN, he explained, “Image SEO is optimizing your GIFs for search engines like Google. You want to do this because many people still find shareable GIFs via search.  They are used in presentations, Slack communications, Facebook Messenger communication, SMS texting, and email marketing.” 

Hunt said that GIF file names should include relevant keywords. Adding a keyword to the alt tag also helps. Hunt believes that these two easy steps can make a big difference. 

He continued, “GIFs are not only used to be funny or make something go viral. You can use a GIF to demonstrate how a product works.” 

Additionally, GIFs can be used to deliver a call to action, or provide sneak peeks of new products. 

Patrick Nycz, founding president of NewPoint Marketing, agreed that marketing in a GIF is possible if the right tactics are employed. It also comes down to target demographics. 

“A GIF is just the delivery medium for the brand message. Any brand that understands their audience will know if a message in GIF form will resonate with them,” he said. 

It’s a way to survive and stay relevant during changing times. 

Nycz explained, “If the majority of ad budgets are shifting toward social media marketing, a brand must do what it can to stand out on the social platform. In a social feed that is primarily text and static images, an animated GIF can add a much needed ‘wow factor’ and catch the viewer’s attention. Also, as a moving image, a GIF can convey more information than text or static images.”

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