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How to Use GIFs for Marketing

By February 4, 2022February 9th, 2022Animation
How to Use GIFs for Marketing Title Card

GIFs are a powerful tool. Whether you’re expressing 3D emotions in the 2D world of the internet, or bringing your marketing emails to life with animation, using GIFs can significantly enhance your internet content.

So what is a GIF? A GIF is a lossless format for image files that supports both animated and static images. They are a fast paced, highly-visual medium perfect for sharing quick bits of info, not to mention hilarious reactions to pop culture.

A GIF of a person interacting with a wave; a seagull flies overhead

Nata Metlukh creates amazing, weird GIFs sprung out of the imaginary.

Not only are they a unique challenge for artists (how can I fit a motion in a box with a limited amount of frames?), but you can also use GIFs to  boost your business. You can help your brand stand out by using  GIFs in email signatures, tweets, email marketing, and more. When applied thoughtfully, using GIFs  can communicate information in a way that  tells your organization’s story while getting your audiences’ brain pumped up to look at cool moving visuals.

GIF style infographic demonstrating 3 different ways to breathe; animated lungs of a human, a chicken, and a grasshopper elucidate the 3 different ways of breathing with color coded animation. Worded captions of the 3 different types of lungs are off to the side of the image.

Scientist/GIF superstar Eleanor Lutz creates crazy beautiful GIFs that navigate complex biology with bright colors.

A brief history of GIFs

GIFs came to be 30+ years ago, with the purpose of compressing multiple images for memory and space. Since then, they’ve gone through many phases of popularity, from love to hate to love again. What’s made them stick around is the ease  of making and sharing them, and a strong alignment with animation. Despite the fact that many tech experts say GIFs aren’t the ideal file format for animation, many of our systems are built around displaying and sharing them. GIFs maintain relevance in pushing boundaries for artists, and brightening up your feed or email with a bit of fun imagery. (And we don’t even need to get into how they are taking on a new life in NFTs). 

A note on GIFs and Accessibility

It’s important to remember that although GIFs are a dynamic way to bring information to life, GIFs are not the right choice for every situation. GIF files leave no way to encode the highly visual content by text, which means that the messages communicated by GIFs are lost for anyone using an accessibility tool such as a screen reader.

When using GIFs, always question whether you’re replacing vital text-based information in your content. You can commit to accessibility by always providing an alternative way to access the information shared, such as using alt-text or a caption. You can read more about GIFs and accessibility here.

a hot pink tiger prowls in an animated jungle, with stormy rainclouds above and spooky forest flora on the ground beneath them..

Nick Little creates fantastical, brightly colored GIFs and animations.

Here are some reasons to incorporate GIFs into your marketing strategy.

GIFs spice up your feed

If you have a lot of text to go through, breaking it up with fun, relevant imagery will keep your audience engaged and motivated to get through to the important info. Integrating custom GIFs in your marketing and using images that are relevant to your brand helps to give a consistent look and feel throughout.

A whiteboard marker draws a simple envelope; once the drawing completes, the envelope flies off to be sent!

GIFs are cheaper than full animations

Depending on the scale of your project, GIFs are usually topped off at 5 seconds. This makes GIFs a wonderful choice for budget-friendly custom animation. Animating GIFs takes a lot less time than a full blown animation, , and requires no time spent on music or voice overs. (If you don’t know, GIFs are audio-free!)

A man with a red hat sits on a patio, enjoying a coffee and the presence of his pup at his feet.GIFs are short!

From Bearfoot Graphics; “Research shows that users only have time to read 28% of words per visit to a webpage on average, which means just under three quarters of your message might ever be read.” With short attention spans a common denominator among audiences, short, memorable clips are a bonus. 

GIFs are universal

Research from Rigor shows that although GIFs can be slow to upload, there are many benefits. Some of these include universal support for playing animated GIFs on all platforms and widely available tools for creating GIFs. GIFs also avoid the problems of patent or licensing concerns often applicable to common video codecs, which means you will have an easier time using GIFs on Facebook or using GIFs on Instagram than you might with other file forms.

A red car cruises down an animated road, coming up over a small hill and continuing to roll along.

So you want to make and use GIFs for marketing! Great. Here are some “Rules of Thumb” or “GIF Tips” to make sure you’re using GIFs properly and effectively.

Keep em’ short

If there’s anything to get out of this article, it’s knowing when to use a GIF. Billy Hoffman from Rigor found that “animated GIFs are usually 5 to 10 times larger than a properly encoded MP4 video.” While GIFs can be put in fun places and are a universal file format, they generally can slow down a user experience when used improperly. Before making a GIF, ask “is this something I can show in 5 seconds or less?” If not, a short MP4 might be the best course of action.

Use the file type as a creative constraint

Think about what you can achieve “branding wise” with only a couple seconds – could it be an animated logo? A clip of your company mascot blinking. Use the limitations on the amount of colors as a design opportunity – these considerations will bring clarity to your vision and message.

GIFs and SEO

Naming files is key when uploading GIFs. Not only should the file be named appropriately, but images should be given a description if there’s a place in the backend of your website for alt text. This is an important practice for accessibility, and it helps with your website SEO as well! 

A GIF of two hands typing on a laptop computer; the text being typed reads, ""In conclusion, using GIFs is fun! Whether popping them in an instagram story or embedding them on your website, they’re a quick visual asset that can communicate a whole lot. When starting a creative project, it’s always important to think about what file format would work best for every user, and how accessible  it will be for your viewers to watch, understand, and share your content. If you can say it quickly and with a fun animation – say it with a GIF!

a desktop computer sits upon a tidy desk; as the GIF cycles, the days of the week flash across the screen. The desk becomes progressively less tidy as the week goes on, featuring a collection of mugs, notes, email notifications, and work. On Sunday, a vacuum accompanies the clean desk to finish the GIF cycle.