GIFs: The Spice of Life

GIFs: The Spice of Life

Written By Darren Seys - August 27, 2014

When I was in 4th grade, there was nothing I wanted more than a Geocities webpage to showcase my obsession with Sailor Moon (a popular Japanese anime show). Geocities pages were the perfect beginner webpages: they started free, and almost anybody could design a page to their liking. “Cool” webpages had tons and tons of images and not a lot of text. But webpages that really were worth sharing were the webpages that had your name in sparkling pink letters (thanks FlamingText.com), an “under construction” sign that flipped vertically, or a dancing banana. These moving or animated images are called “GIFs,” an acronym for “graphic interchange format.” After being MIA following the demise of MySpace and the rising popularity of limited design social media sites like Facebook, GIFs are having a renaissance. But like most things these days we have to wonder: are GIFs back for good, or is this just another Millennial fad?

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GIFs made their official debut in 1987, hence the painfully outdated name of “graphic interchange format,” Almost immediately the GIF met controversy in a copyright war that lasted until 1994. The disagreement ended in the winning company licensing the GIF format to other companies for a fee. Most people didn’t want to pay, and ditched GIFs for the PNG format by 1996 – a free, non-patented single-image format. By the early 2000’s, time had passed: we survived Y2K, Britney Spears was America’s Sweetheart, and the GIF patent had expired. Enter Geocities and inexperienced Internet users.

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Before MySpace and Facebook, there was Geocities, and what better way to express your limited HTML knowledge and trendiness than with a bunch of animated images? GIFs are compressed image files, meaning they could more easily load for people with modem connections and outdated web browsers. The ease of loading GIFs made GIFs accessible for people of all Internet speeds and bandwidths. Remember, this is the time before we had YouTube, Vimeo, Netflix, and Hulu: accessing video files used to take hours! How people ever survived is a mystery to me. Somewhere around 2001, a flash music video for the song “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” featuring a pixelated, dancing banana took over the World Wide Web. The dancing banana went on to be one of the most popular GIFs of that time. After the Geocities craze came the next bigger and better Internet trend: MySpace. MySpace was hot for about four years and truly kicked off our dependence on social media. Other than constantly worrying about who should be in my Top 8, I know I was one of the millions of teenagers who spent far too many hours littering their MySpace profile with as many GIFs as humanly possible. Why did we love GIFs so much? They were new, shiny, fun, and added a little bit of quirk to an otherwise stereotypical MySpace page. Once Facebook eclipsed MySpace in users, GIFs died out because Facebook only offered, and still only offers, limited customization aspects on profiles. However, like most trends including Jelly sandals from the 90’s and unfortunately overalls, every trend gets a second-go, and now is the time for GIFs.

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Today, thanks mainly to Tumblr, the home of many GIF-centric pages, we have GIFs for every situation, every reaction and every feeling featuring clips from TV shows, music videos, movies, YouTube videos, you name it. Furthermore, companies like Victoria’s Secret PINK, J.Crew, and Steve Madden are cashing in on the GIF trend by using their merchandise to create GIF images on their marketing emails. For example, Victoria’s Secret PINK recently sent out an e-mail promoting their collegiate collection, featuring an image model with the pullover sweatshirt she was wearing changing every few seconds to showcase different colleges and universities. Steve Madden often features GIF images in their emails with rotating images of their latest and greatest shoes. Even K-Mart got on the GIF-train during the 2013 Holiday Season with a “GIFing Out” campaign. This campaign featured commercials of family members doing strange repeated movements after scoring great deals at K-Mart, to which the onlookers would remark that their family member was “GIFing out.”

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GIFs have evolved greatly past pixelated images. In addition to having a GIF for any mood, we now have “cinemagraphs,” which feature still images with only a minor repeated detail moving.  But what does this mean for the future of GIFs; are they here to stay, or are they another fleeting millennial fad? Kerry Trainor, CEO of Vimeo, stated, “We really feel like the GIF format overall really represents an interesting connecting tissue between what people typically think of as video and what people typically think of as still images… This is a new area of video creativity that we think bridges the gap between video and still photography.” With the attention span of users shorter than ever and the number of hours in a day ever dwindling, it is important for marketers to provide users with content that can be accessed quickly and easily. Sure, YouTube and Vimeo videos are great, but users’ time is limited, and watching a minutes-long video just takes up too much of their precious time. Not to mention buffer time! Enter the GIF – typically a few seconds long – short enough but to the point. Furthermore, GIFs can be instantly shared through social media, bypassing the inconvenience of having to click the play or pause button like on a YouTube video. Are GIFs the future of video? Will there one day be a social media site dedicated only to GIFs? As the popularity of GIFs continues to increase, I personally believe these are not such farfetched ideas.

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So how can you jump on the GIF-train for your business? First, you can share GIFs across your social media accounts: be it Facebook, Google+, or even your blog. GIFs don’t always work on all social media platforms (Instagram and Pinterest for example) but they can help spice up your posts on social media platforms where they do. Whether you are sharing original, curated or repurposed content, GIFs can help tell your story with a little quirk and flare. Another way you can use GIFs for business is by creating GIFs that are centric to your work. In other words – don’t just use or make a GIF just to say you did. If you are using GIFs just to fit in or look cool, trust me, it’ll be painfully obvious. But when a GIF syncs with your brand or campaign, people will know who is responsible for that fun piece of content (you!). Email campaigns are another great outlet to create your original GIFs to market your latest and greatest products. As previously mentioned, Victoria’s Secret PINK has mastered the art of GIF marketing, as has Urban Outfitters. Lastly, if you are a website or blog that frequently posts a lot of tips or how-to’s, GIFs can be used as an educational resource. Showing your readers how to follow your tips step-by-step in a short, repetitive clip will help keep readers from second-guessing your directions, or leaving your page to turn to YouTube for help.

When words can’t say what you’re feeling or thinking, a GIF can. GIFs are like Hallmark cards for Millennials, except free and less compassionate. As consumers’ attention dwindles and patience is fleeting, I believe marketers will eventually have to be even more creative and find a quicker way to reach their consumers, and GIFs are the perfect medium. With GIFs, your creativity is limitless – the only real boundary is your mind, and maybe some copyright laws (watch out for those when using content lifted from movies, TV shows, and anything you don’t). Below are some of my favorite GIFs, and of course, I included the dancing banana. Long live Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

 

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Source: http://mashable.com/2012/10/19/animated-gif-history
Source: http://www.business2community.com/content-marketing/7-best-practices-using-gifs-cinemagraphs-business-0939520#!bLjeQm
Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/most-popular-gifs-of-2013-2013-12
Source: http://victorious.wikia.com/wiki/File:Cupcake_dog_gif.gif
Source: http://img4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20070819174055/uncyclopedia/images/b/be/200px-Dancing_Banana.gif
Source: http://vspink.com
Source: http://www.urbanoutfitters.com

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