Why Consumer Brands Need to Be Using GIFs in Their Marketing

People hate ads, but people love GIFs.

If you use the internet, then you've seen GIFs.

There have been plenty of articles written about why you should integrate GIFs into your marketing strategy. Many of the articles talk about how GIFs are an engaging way to get a brand message across by using them in an email, blogs, and social media posts, and how millennials love them. All true. But if you’re just treating GIFs as a way to add a little spice to your marketing, you’re missing out big time.

Recently, GIF search engine platforms like Giphy, Tenor (acquired by Google), and Gfycat offer ways for brands to create and optimize content on their respective search engines. Much like your traditional search engines, whoever can create the best content that gives the end user the result (GIF) they were searching for can grab a hefty chunk of the 7 billion daily impressions from GIFs across the web.

This creates a great opportunity for consumer brands to get more engaging, high-quality impressions with consumers than they could with billboards, TV commercials, or interruptive digital ads. If you’re a consumer brand, you should be getting serious about GIFs in 2019. In this article, we’re going to take a look at why GIFs have become so important, and how you can start integrating them into your company’s marketing strategy.

GIFs Are Incredibly Popular

GIFs are distributed through major GIF search engines and their third-party integration partners. Giphy and Tenor boast integrations in the most popular social media and messaging apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, iMessage, WhatsApp, Tinder, Slack, and many others.

The Tenor mobile keyboard app has over 10 million downloads and over 12 billion GIF searches every month. Giphy boasts 500 million daily active users on its platform (making it more popular than Twitter and Pinterest) that send more than 7 billion GIFs every day.

Yep. People send GIFs to their friends, enemies, family, and colleagues 7 billion times every day to improve and personalize their conversations in messaging apps. That is more than triple the 2 billion daily GIFs sent in 2017. Approximately 70% of internet users ages 8-64 (200M people) know how to send a GIF, half of which say they send at least one per week. According to a recent study, 69 percent of Americans reported that they frequently use GIFs to communicate with friends because they are more effective at communicating emotions than words or images alone.

It’s science. People love GIFs because humans are visual creatures. The human brain processes images 60,000 times quicker than text. This has been known by marketers for a while now. Advertising and content performs better when it has visuals. GIFs are a great way to get messaging across in a short, engaging visual format that feeds into the instant gratification consumers want when consuming content. With GIFs, brands can tell a six-second story that is short enough for diminishing attention spans and fun to share with friends.

GIFs are naturally entertaining due to their blending of pop culture, memes, and emotion. GIFs can also be extremely personal. For example, this dancing celebration Seinfeld GIF expresses more than just excitement. It also references the shared interest and bond between friends who are communicating with GIFs and both love Seinfeld. It’s a much better response to good news than simply writing “I’m excited!”. GIFs are how people communicate in messaging conversations when words alone can’t convey the emotions they want to express.

The Rise of Messaging

Where there is messaging, there are GIFs.

Mark Zuckerberg thinks the future looks like 100 billion messages being sent everyday. As people believe GIFs are more effective for communicating emotions than words are, the future growth for GIFs looks bright.

GIFs are primarily distributed and sent through third-party integrations with messaging apps like  Facebook Messenger, iMessage, Telegram, WhatsApp, Tinder, and Discord, which all tout hundreds of millions of daily active users. Business Insider reports that time spent in messaging apps is on the rise and won’t be slowing down anytime soon. As messaging apps grow, GIFs will continue to grow with them.

chart of average time spent in messaging apps

GIFs are even making inroads in the business world. Slack, the popular business communications app, is quickly replacing email as the way that over 8 million office workers internally communicate with co-workers and clients daily. Slack integrates with all major GIF search engines to help make internal business communication more human and less boring.

Whether they’re chatting with friends or getting work done with their colleagues, chances are your audience is doing it with GIFs. They’re even starting to take over social media as feeds make way for stories.

The Rise of Stories

Stories, the popular ephemeral content medium that allows people to share a glimpse of their daily lives, are on track to surpass newsfeeds as the primary way people communicate and connect on social platforms. Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube all have a Stories feature on their respective platforms. In Facebook’s most recent quarterly earnings call, Mark Zuckerberg confirmed a major focus would be “making sure that ads are as good in Stories as they are in feeds”. Facebook is betting big on Stories, and they are dedicating significant resources to making Stories and the advertising experience as good or better than newsfeeds for both end-users and advertisers.

It will still be important for brands to maintain expertly curated Facebook and Instagram profile feeds. But to better engage with consumers, brands will need to make sure they can provide entertaining experiences for consumers with content inside of Stories. Creating daily content for Stories is a significant undertaking and commitment from a brand. Dedicating resources to this is not only expensive, but also risky. The Time Well Spent (TWS) initiative was implemented by Facebook to help people better connect with each other, not businesses, by prioritizing user content over business content in their algorithm. Businesses have felt this in the organic reach and engagement of their content on these platforms. TWS also affects Stories. Investing resources in transitioning to Stories can be expensive, and it has an inherent risk that users may not have a chance to see this content before it disappears.

GIF Stickers in Stories

Thankfully, GIF Stickers can be used by brands to get consumers to use their brand in Stories. These stickers have become an incredibly popular way for people to communicate emotion and add additional context to the photos and videos they share on their Stories. By making entertaining GIF stickers, brands give consumers a way to use their brand to express themselves with content that they share with all their followers.

When users search for a “coffee” GIF sticker on Instagram, they are shown a list of fun options. Notice the two Starbucks stickers ranking organically in search results for “coffee”. Starbucks has been able to bypass the Facebook algorithms and give consumers a new fun way to interact with their brand. Those two Starbucks GIF stickers have generated over 100MM impressions combined, and they’ve done it without drawing the ire that millenials and Gen Z typically direct towards ads.

screenshot of gif sticker search

People Hate Ads

People really don’t like advertising.

Forbes reports that 84% of millennials don’t like and don’t trust traditional marketing. Brands spend millions of dollars on advertisements (traditional and digital) that are interruptive and frustrate consumers. Those billboards and TV commercials don’t help brands get clout with younger demographics. Even trackable, highly-targeted digital marketing campaigns based on injecting an advertisement into a newsfeed or pre-roll ads that people must watch to see content are interruptive of the user experience and annoy potential customers.

Redditor “Sassocity” sums up the experience pretty nicely using an example Hulu subscribers understand all too well.  

Hulu forcing people to watch ads

Advertisers have tried methods like this to increase engagement for their content-blocking ads and fight “banner blindness”. These methods may help advertisers get their message across, but when done forcefully, it risks annoying consumers and injuring the brand-consumer relationship. It’s not surprising that 86% of consumers value authenticity when it comes down to brands they support. Force feeding ads to consumers does not help build authenticity. To build authenticity, brands should be creating content that consumers enjoy — content that is useful, and makes them smile without asking for anything in return.

GIFs are shared by consumers in messaging conversations with people they know and trust. This provides brands an opportunity to make fun and authentic experiences by giving consumers GIFs they can use to enhance their messaging experience within their most intimate conversations. Instead of pushing a product or directly selling something like many traditional ads, brands can create content that consumers like to use and share with their friends. Don’t make content to be passively consumed, make content to be actively used (and enjoyed).

So how do you make sure that your GIFs are accessible and used by consumers?

GIF Engine Optimization (GEO)

If you are familiar with search engine optimization (SEO), or are a power-user of search engines, you know that the goal of a search engine is user experience. It’s to get the end user the best answer to their query as quickly as possible. GIF search engines work the same way. They want to allow users to quickly respond in messaging conversations with extremely relevant (and often hilarious) GIFs. This is primarily done by looking for keywords that have been attributed to each GIF by either the creator of the GIF or the search engine itself.

But this isn’t pre-2003 Google SEO with keyword stuffing. There are other factors weighing into these privately-held algorithms. For example, Giphy leverages Google Cloud Vision (GCV) API to better understand image and text content within GIFs and Google Cloud Natural Language API for syntax recognition in a block line of text. Over time, these algorithms have learned to understand emotions, reactions, objects, and even identify celebrities. This means the search engines know who Zach Galifianakis is and what he looks like.

This all helps the search engines better understand the content and context of the GIF in order to serve the end user options for appropriate GIFs based on keyword query and create a great user experience.

Much like in SEO, the process to get GIFs to rank well organically is not an easy task. It requires keyword and content planning, competitor analysis, and patience. Major GIF search engines release even less information than Google and Bing around best practices and how their ranking algorithms work. Achieving high organic ranking requires strategically targeting relevant keywords and creating relevant content to match. It requires planning and patience, but the results are well worth it.

Great Brands Are Already Doing It

Some of the world’s leading and most innovative brands already understand the value of GIFs. This is modern-day product placement, only better. By entertaining people with great GIF content, people choose to send content to people they communicate with over messaging apps and social media.

Dos Equis was smart enough to leverage existing creative from their defunct “Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign.

This “Facepalm” GIF is the perfect response when a user wants to communicate frustration or disappointment in a conversation over messaging. To date, this GIF has over 310MM impressions. Not a bad way to generate ROI from existing ad creative.

This New Year's Eve GIF by Absolut Vodka has generated over 244M views by giving people a way to share their excitement for NYE.

Even Amazon is getting involved. This GIF is a funny meme that subtly reminds shoppers where they should be buying their gifts and has racked up 38MM impressions in 2018.

Many other major brands including Gatorade, Bud Light, Maybelline, W Hotels, Converse, State Farm, and Old Spice have already found success to the tune of billions of engaging impressions with consumers.

If you're a consumer brand in 2019, you can reach your consumers just about everywhere. Whether it’s out-of-home or on their phone, you can get your brand in front of consumers. The last digital safe space a consumer has to avoid your advertising is in the intimate conversations they have with their co-workers, friends, and family across messaging apps. Let’s avoid ruining GIFs by packing them with overt, interruptive advertisements.

GIFs can be an extremely effective and lucrative marketing channel if used correctly. They are short enough for our diminishing attention spans. You can’t help but be mesmerized and watch each looping 6 second video at least a few times. By creating entertaining content that is made to be experienced, not consumed, you can reap the rewards to the tune of hundreds of millions of impressions, while authentically connecting with consumers.

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