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GIF-Powered Marketing: The Rise of Branded GIF Content

GIFs have been adopted by Millennials online as a near-second language, and now savvy brands are using GIFs to create marketing content that captures young consumers.

GIFs are the sweetheart of the internet; an important fixture of communication for young consumers, internet users, and the brands that want to speak their language. In just a few short years, the looped motion files have gone from near extinction to become a vital part of conversation—just check a commenting board, or the plethora of reaction GIF libraries, to see what we mean. The medium is now seeping into mobile communication thanks to new apps that make animated clips easier to share on the go. Nutmeg is an app that provides an “expertly curated” menu of reaction GIFs that allow users to simply tap on the emotion they want to convey and choose a GIF that will act it out for them. New app Camoji is making GIFs personal, letting users create GIF selfies that send and loop seamlessly within iMessage.

Last year, we discussed the untapped marketing potential of GIFs, but in 2014 GIF-powered marketing has finally arrived. This June, Twitter opened up its feed to GIFs and Wendy’s, Forever 21, Mountain Dew, GE, Samsung, and Arby’s all contributed, remaining playful with the format and giving us a taste of what to expect in GIF visuals on the social network. Outside of social platforms, brands are using GIFs in creative ways, and integrating them into even traditional marketing to attract young consumers. It isn’t always easy. Last Christmas, Kmart attempted to incorporate GIFs into their on air commercials, but the result didn’t make sense and annoyed viewers, showing a disconnect between the brand’s desire to be current and their understanding of how GIFs are actually used. But it is very possible to include GIFs in campaigns in ways that are sharable and unique. Here are two recent example of GIF-powered marketing that works:

The Madden GIFERATOR

EA Sports Madden has maintained its spot as the top football video game, and has continued to adjust to keep up with young gamers and their tastes. Now that digital download games and mobile gaming has invaded the space, the brand has made digital marketing a priority, and for Madden NFL 15, they’ve put GIFs in the spotlight. EA teamed with Google to create the Madden GIFERATOR, a site that allows anyone to create customized GIFs of Madden players to send to friends as animated trash talk. Visitors pick their favorite team, a play to be looped, an environment the player will be placed in—including falling snow, lightning, lava, and a field of blossoming cherry trees—and then add block of text, or choose from a menu of already written insults. Presto: instant reaction content for the NFL season, and highly shareable marketing for the gaming franchise. 

Why It Works: The Madden GIFerator hits the nail on the head by understanding how GIFs are a part of Millennial conversation: they’re used as visual exclamations, reactions, and to send over the top messages that words alone just can’t convey. The instant sharing tool incorporated into the site is key to its success, and the fact that the GIFs are completely customizable speaks to young consumers’ desire to put their own stamp on content before broadcasting it out. 

Fiat’s Endless Fun

Fiat’s latest “Endless Fun” TV commercials bring GIFs to the small screen, featuring weird and quirky scenes that loop and are in fact actual GIFs pushed into a traditional content format. The GIFs were originally created for Tumblr, but the Chrystler CMO liked them so much the brand found a way to feature them in a more prominent way. In one commercial, a giant bunny twerks on the car, a horse-mask wearing driver takes off his sunglasses over the text “Deal With It,”  and a cat and red Fiat float together in space. Fiat’s own Tumblr is jam-packed with similar GIFs that feature the cars, but clearly borrow from Tumblr’s unique aesthetic trends. The goal of the campaign was to be “stylish, irreverent, and fun,” and the spots are nothing if not attention grabbers. The ads are airing on networks like MTV, VH1, Adult Swim, and FX, and the brand also invited consumers to send their own Fiat GIFs in via the hashtag #MyFiatUSA for a chance to be featured on Tumblr.

Why It Works: The campaign might not be a viral hit (the most watch commercial on YouTube has been viewed a little over 200,000 times) but the placement of the ads on TV channels that Millennials frequent, and that feature similar offbeat content, is a smart move that shows Fiat understands the Tumblr aesthetic and the sometimes weird entertainment tastes of young consumers. The brand is clearly doing something right: According to AdAge, “[Fiat] sales rose 18% in May and 17% during the first five months of 2014, according to Automotive News Data Center.”