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Are GIFs the future of advertising?

GIFs are everywhere. Short for Graphics Interchange Format, the format isn't new (it's been around since the late 1980s), but it's becoming the go-to language for how millennials communicate via text. Natually, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others are jumping on the GIF bandwagon.

"Animated GIFs are becoming ubiquitous. They are becoming this language that people are using everywhere," said Riffsy CEO David McIntosh. He created the GIF Keyboard for mobile, which makes it easy to text GIFs and add them into Facebook and LinkedIn's messenger apps. According to Riffsy, the year-old company now has five billion GIF views per month, up from the 2.5 billion this summer.

"It took off on college campuses," said McIntosh. "A lot of people in this younger generation were already used to visual expression. They were already using emoji."

But unlike emojis, GIFs can be monetized. Brands are realizing they can seamlessly become a part of this visual language that is already being shared around the Web. They're particularly well suited for marketing movies and TV shows because scenes can easily be trimmed down into a GIF.

Riffsy partnered with 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios to create GIFs from "Taken 3" and "Minions" for its keyboard. According to Riffsy, "Minions" GIFs were shared 80 million times on the GIF Keyboard. Though they are not as useful in promoting a movie as a trailer, they are a way to get character and brand awareness into texts. And unlike video, these silent, looping GIFs play easily with any bandwidth on any device, including smartwatches.

"Three to five seconds is the new three to five minutes," McIntosh said. He said that in this fast-paced mobile world, people often don't have time to watch a complete movie trailer on YouTube.

Riffsy is not the only start-up looking to use GIFs as a marketing tool. Companies such as Giphy, which provide a search engine for a library of GIFs, and Tumblr Creatrs Program, which claims to be the "home of the GIF," have become go-to agencies for brands looking to develop GIF assets to share. Both companies have partnered with entertainment studios, as well as other brands.

Giphy's artists, for example, created 100 GIFs for a Subway campaign, and did a campaign for McDonald's all-day breakfast promotion.

"So imagine when someone is hungry, they search for McDonald's Big Mac GIFs and then share it out," said Giphy CEO Alex Chung. "That is the holy grail of advertising. Your marketing no longer becomes marketing, but becomes part of the culture and part of the conversation in a very natural way. There's a lot of potential there."