Why GIFs Became the Sweetheart of the Internet


Is it too early to crown the GIF the internet star of 2013? Though the format has been in use since the early days of websites, there has been a proliferation of GIF use among young consumers of late that has pushed the once lowly image file into the spotlight. What is it about the GIF format that has captured the hearts of hoards of Tumblr users, internet commenters, and viral bloggers?

For readers who aren’t familiar with the GIF, they are short, endlessly-looped video files that appear to play a few seconds of action on eternal replay. The New Republic wrote an extensive history of the medium and its rise from 90s junk animation to art form. Today, GIFs have become an integral part of the way internet users (often led by Gen Y) talk to one another. They appear as reactions to blog articles, are created and shared by fan communities on Tumblr and elsewhere to celebrate moments in TV and movies, are emailed as exclamations and emotional outbursts. In short, they have become the second language of the internet.

So why GIFs, and why now? Millennials, always a very image-reliant generation, have continued to gravitate towards visual communication. With the strengthening popularity of Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine, and Snapchat, we could almost see them reaching a tipping point where visuals actually usurp text communication in common use. When you are a group who communicates by majority in visuals, those visuals have to evolve in order to fully capture the emotion you are trying to convey. (We saw a similar evolution in the simple emoticon, which began as a finite combination of punctuations and have become a legion of animated faces and objects stored on your phone for easy access and hieroglyphic-esque messaging.) Layer on top of this the fact that Millennials have also…


Want to talk to us about the article
or dive into a custom study?

Millennial News Feed

Quote of the Day: “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without some family drama.” –Male, 23, MA

The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line has found their anthem, and it’s a Millennial hit. The brand has famously helped home cooks with their turkey efforts for 30 years, allowing anyone to call to get their bird questions answered. This year, the Butterball Twitter account is filled with references to Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and its viral video. Sample parody lyrics: "'You always call me on my landline, from the kitchen when you need my help." #TalkLineBling #HotlineBling’” (Digiday)

Though Black Friday mania is still high, there is a burgeoning backlash to the day, and according to Ypulse’s holiday shopping survey, 68% of 13-33-year-olds support companies that close their retail locations that day. E-tailer Everlane did shut down their site for two Black Fridays in protest of the commerce chaos, but this year the site will instead donate all its Black Friday profits to its factory workers to create a wellness program that includes free groceries, English lessons, and health care. The brand hopes to raise $100,000 in their Black Friday Fund. (Racked)

Millennials are growing up, and for many that means they’re starting to host their own Thanksgiving dinners—and they aren’t necessarily following every tradition. A Yahoo Food survey found that 44% of 18-34-year-olds say they’ll be serving ham instead of the traditional turkey, 10% are adding a meatless entrée to their feast, and Millennials are twice as a likely not to serve cranberry sauce, but more likely to deep fry or smoke their turkeys. (Washington Post)

It’s a struggle for a brand that only gets attention once a year, and Stove Top is ready for a stuffing revolution to reverse their fate. The brand has introduced a new campaign starring an “Artisanal Hipster Pilgrim,” a Millennial character who is out to convince everyone to eat stuffing all the time with lines like “I’m sorry, I just thought you might like to enjoy delicious things all the time instead of one day a year. My mistake.” The effort includes four comedic online videos and a hipster pilgrim Instagram. (Adweek)

Since more are hosting their own turkey day gatherings, Millennials are also spending more on Thanksgiving, with an Allrecipe survey reporting that 42% plan to spend more this year than they did in 2014. Vice president of consumer and brand strategy at Allrecipes explains, “’(Millennials) are more likely to be buying more artisan, local-crafted products. They pride themselves on being tastemakers and trendsetters.’” Millennials are also more likely to have multiple Thanksgiving dinners to attend…perhaps including a Friendsgiving or two. (Time)

Quote of the Day: “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without my cousins' annoying kids running in front of the TV.” –Male, 30, MA

Sign Up Now

Subscribe for premium access to our content, data, and tools.

Already a subscriber? Sign in.

Upgrade Now

Upgrade for full access to the best marketing tools for understanding the next generation.

View our Client Case Studies