Practical Ecommerce

Behold the Animated GIF

Since its birth in 1987, Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF, has proved to be one of the most durable image standards. GIFs are supported by nearly every modern web browser and almost every email client in the world. That’s a big deal.

GIFs provide a way of embedding animated content — short looping videos — in online ads, emails, SMS messages, and tweets, without requiring the recipient to click on a link to access the content. Ecommerce merchants know that videos typically increase sales and that the fewer barriers between their target audience and their videos, the more effective their message. The animated GIF is something you should put to work before others catch on.

Here are a few ways to leverage the power of animated GIFs in your marketing strategy.

1. Spice Up Your Next Email Campaign with Animated GIFs

There are a number of tools, including Photoshop, that allow making animated GIFs from a stack of images. This feature was even recently added to Google Plus.

A handful of online sellers are starting to use animated GIFs in their email campaigns. The animation occurs as soon as the email is opened in most modern email clients. This means the recipient sees the animation without having to follow a link, greatly increasing engagement. Imagine being able to add a YouTube video in your emails without requiring the user to click “play.”

My favorite example of how animated GIFs can be used to make email campaigns more engaging and effective is from Jack Spade, a retailer of bags and clothing accessories. Imagine finding this in your inbox.

Animated GIF from Jack Spade.

Animated GIF from Jack Spade.

Here are a few more examples of how retailers are using animated GIFs in email campaigns.

You can even convert existing videos to animated GIFs with tools like GIFSoup and Imgflip.

One caveat, however, is that some email clients will display only the first frame of an animated GIF. So make sure the first frame gets your message across.

2. Make Your Google Ads Move

Did you know that you can display animated GIFs within Google ads? According to Google’s official guidelines, animated GIFs can be used in ads as long as they are 150KB or smaller, less than 30 seconds in length, and have a maximum display rate of 5FPS (frames per second). Here’s an animated GIF that my company used to illustrate the importance of good product photography in a Google ad to give you a sense of what’s possible.

360 degree shoe spin animated GIF.

360 degree shoe spin animated GIF.

3. Conquer Tumblr

The recent $1.1 billion acquisition by Yahoo! has cemented Tumblr as a credible and increasingly important platform for reaching potential customers. Tumblr blogs are a great place to share animated GIFs because the animation is visible within other peoples’ feeds, which is the most common way people view content on Tumblr. The only catch is that your GIF must be no larger than 1 MB. My company built the website GIFcrush, which is a free tool for compressing animated GIFs to meet Tumblr’s 1 MB limit.

4. Pioneer Emerging Social Networks

New social networks like Vine, Cinemagram, Viddy, and SocialCam that are built around short videos are creating interesting and fun opportunities for getting your sales message in front of a young, lucrative audience. Many of these networks are based on creating and sharing animated GIFs. Cinemagram is my favorite.

Experiment with animated GIFs and the emerging tools for capturing and sharing short video snippets. This type of media will likely continue to become more popular. How can short looping animations improve your online advertisements and email campaigns?

Jason Lawrence
Jason Lawrence
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Comments ( 6 )

  1. Elizabeth Ball June 6, 2013 Reply

    Hi Jason, this is so cool! Can you please explain where exactly in Google Adwords the section for adding an animated gif is?

  2. AraG June 6, 2013 Reply

    I find it rather superficial to suggest that using .gif animation is "cool" in email campaigns. Did you consider the performance impact this type of images have on casual users? There are so many potential issues starting with access to bandwidth on different devices, that makes the use of GIF animations (especially at a certain size and color depth), almost prohibiting. That some retailers are using this, tells me that whomever decided to implement this, doesn’t probably care that much about their customer base and their needs.

    Cool is never > usable.
    (the top image is around 750Kb >= large, fully graphics and code loaded Web page).

  3. Tim June 6, 2013 Reply

    @Elizabeth
    You can use animated gifs in display network (content network) ads.

    Start a new campaign and adgroup and limit it to showing only on the display network, and create ads there.

    It’s a good idea to keep display and search campaigns separate because they work in vastly different ways.

  4. Elizabeth Ball June 6, 2013 Reply

    Thanks Tim, I was kinda hoping it was for search, not display! Still, worth a try.

  5. Sol Aris June 6, 2013 Reply

    FILE SIZE.

    Marketers keep your expectations down a little for just a few more years with the animated gifs. Just sayin ;)

  6. Jason Lawrence June 10, 2013 Reply

    @AraG,

    Indeed, file size is always something important to consider, but bandwidth is continuously rising alongside the size of acceptable email payloads. There are also a number of good free tools for compressing animated GIFs. I cited one in the article: http://gifcrush.com.

    Thanks for your feedback!

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