We live in an age of visual communication. Every day, people use billions of emoji on social platforms and in messaging apps. Every now and then some enterprising marketer livens up my email inbox with an emoji subject line. And in the past few years, I’ve had friends and colleagues reply to text messages or workplace group chat using animated GIFs. This is a growing trend that should interest every brand marketer.
Why? Think about your everyday experience.
“We have gotten acclimated to seeing not just graphics but animated graphics for quite some number of years,” linguist Naomi Baron tells The Huffington Post. “Think about the moving ads that have been on Weather.com or name your favorite website for a very long time.” They may be jerky and low resolution, but they’ve become a part of how we experience the world online.
Then a curious thing happened. Clare Fallon writes, “Basically, people started to figure out that GIFs could neatly solve a previously baffling obstacle to naturally flowing online chats. Let’s say you’re commenting on a forum, and another commenter says something shocking. Rather than type out an expression of your reaction (“Oh wow!” or “I can’t believe you said that!”), you can do as you would do in person: Drop your jaw, widen your eyes, and stare, dumbfounded.” Unlike the words, which may not capture your tone, the GIF provides a clear emotional reaction.
In September 2018, Giphy, which is the world’s most popular GIF platform, reported 300 million users a day, and every social platform has incorporated GIF search into their interface. Even Microsoft Teams and Slack now include GIF search. And whenever there’s a way to search, there’s usually a way to advertise.
Alex Chung, the CEO of Giphy, speaking at February’s Brandweek summit says, “Advertising is something we tolerate. It’s all interruptive—you’re scrolling and doing things and watching TV and then this ad comes in. Maybe if that ad is good enough, we tolerate it, but it’s not something you seek out. It’s not something you really want. And most people aren’t being sincere when they say, ‘oh, people love advertising.’”
Chung sees tremendous potential for brands to open a new frontier in advertising: private messages. “If you have a search engine for messaging, then you have an ad platform for messaging,” Chung said, comparing Giphy’s approach to Google’s, which monetized search engines with advertising based on users’ search histories. “… If you want to monetize messaging, you are going to need an ad platform — but in order to have an ad platform, you are going to need search.”
Just take a look at what PepsiCo has done with their sparkling water brand, Bubly. Last year, they rolled out thousands of GIFs, many starring Neil Patrick Harris, so that customers looking to express that they are “annoyed” or “over it” would stumble upon GIF ads for the product. Speaking to Adweek, Todd Kaplan, VP of PepsiCo’s water portfolio says, “GIFs are changing the way we communicate—they make us laugh, they make us smile, and they make us want to connect and share more with each other. [We want to] create 1,000 new ways to get people to crack a smile and engage with our brand on an everyday basis.”
Shoe-giant Converse created a back-to-school campaign featuring Stranger Things star Mille Bobby Brown. The campaign featured 32 reaction GIFs. In a bit of meta commentary, when asked why Converse wanted to use GIFs, a rep for the brand responded, “Because they are …” and then added a GIF to her email that played in an endless loop finishing her sentence with “fun, fun, fun.”
With 70 trillion messages sent in 2018, there’s a lot of possibility for brands to find their way into the conversation. Chung tells brands that they can create and distribute their message in an authentic way using GIFs. Often, the process is so seamless, and the content is so good that the audience doesn’t really know that it’s looking at an ad. And that’s the whole idea.
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