The When, Where & How of Using GIFs in Content Marketing

It is very important to use GIFs responsibly, and sometimes this means sparingly – especially for the purposes of content marketing.

Updated: February 12, 2021

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GIFs have evolved our visual language and the way we communicate with each other in a very short amount of time. They’re everywhere now. Slack channels. Emails. Social networks. Articles. Comment sections. There isn’t a digital content format or method of communication that hasn’t been taken over by GIFs. They’ve become one of the internet’s primary languages.

But – even though they’re everywhere – a thoughtful, well-used and perfectly timed GIF is always a delight. This is because GIFs are effective. While a picture is worth a thousand words, Alex Chung (CEO of Giphy) pointed out that as the “average GIF contains sixty frames, then they’re capable of conveying 60,000 words – the same as the average novel.”

Given their popularity and ability to quickly and concisely convey emotions, elicit a laugh and so much more, marketers have started using GIFs in their content. Here’s why:

  • GIFs are more interactive and visually appealing than images, but much cheaper than video
  • They’re mobile-friendly given their small file size
  • Integrations with social networks make it easy to share GIFs across major players like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram
  • There is an over abundance of existing GIFs to choose from, and creating original GIFs is very easy

Denny’s, for example, is one of the best case studies of a brand that has used GIFs to engage with and entertain its audience. The brand has an awesome and hilarious presence on Tumblr with The brand creates its own food-centric GIFs and has really tapped into the tone and humor that performs well on Tumblr. Engagement levels with each post are impressive.

In this post, you’ll learn where GIFs fit within a content marketing strategy, where to make your own and how to avoid copyright issues.

It’s Important to GIF Responsibly

As mentioned above, GIFs are a delight when they are thoughtfully employed and timed, but it should be emphasized that GIFs are ONLY a delight when thoughtfully employed and timed. Most companies have at least one person that abuses Slack’s integration with Giphy, and they can be grating when misused.

When it comes to using GIFs within content, they should only be used when they serve the story you’re telling. Don’t use a GIF if it doesn’t enhance the story you’re telling or if your message would remain unchanged without it. Choose carefully. If a GIF doesn’t serve a purpose, then it’s just moving clutter. Here are a few use cases in which GIFs and content marketing make an excellent pair.

Explaining How to Do Something
Tutorials and guides are a staple in most content strategies. When showing your audience how a product works or how it can be used, it’s much easier to do so with images than words. GIFs are great for step-by-step walkthroughs of software features, recipes, beauty product applications and so much more.

Bringing Data to Life
Using infographics to visualize data in a palatable way is great, but animated infographics are next level. Showing how different metrics have changed over time, for example, looks great in GIF form. Also, breaking out a large infographic into smaller pieces – one GIF per data figure – is a lot easier and more enjoyable to consume.

Email Campaigns
GIFs look great in newsletters and promotional emails (and most email clients are compatible with GIFS). Experian recently reported that 72% of email marketers that have used GIFs in emails boast higher click-through-rates and transactions compared to GIF-less emails sent to the same customers.

Making Your Own GIFs

There is no shortage of GIFs to choose from online, but it’s very easy to make your own if you can’t find what you’re looking for or need to create original GIFs. These two tools have your GIF-ing needs covered.

Giphy’s GIF Maker is the largest GIF collection online but it also has a GIF Maker that allows you to create GIFs from video files or YouTube links. Simply upload a video or paste a link and you’ll be able to create a GIF within Giphy’s easy-to-use interface. You can choose which part of the video you would like to GIF, set a duration and add a caption. From there, Giphy will create your GIF and add it to its library. Try it here.

This tool is particularly helpful for marketers that work in software. CloudApp enables you to turn screen captures into GIFs. This functionality is great for tutorials and walkthroughs. For each GIF you make, CloudApp will provide you with a unique URL making it easy to share and embed. Try it here.

GIFs and Copyright Laws

Using GIFs for marketing purposes can be tricky when using someone else’s original content – like a movie, television show or a music video. Repurposing someone’s content for a GIF takes away the copyright owner’s ability to govern derivatives of their work, how it gets shared and any potential proceeds generated as a result of its use.

There have not been any legal decisions made (yet) about whether making a GIF from copyrighted material is copyright infringement, technically, but it’s important to be aware of fair use rules when adapting someone else’s work into a GIF, especially when it is being used for commercial purposes.

The repurposing of copyrighted material is considered fair use when the original material has been transformed for the purposes of parody, education, commentary or criticism – and does not compete with the copyright holder’s ability to make money off of the material.

When creating a GIF from copyrighted material, it’s important to be able to defend:

  • The purpose of your use of the material, and how it has been remixed into an educational or satirical (for examples) tool
  • The amount of material being repurposed in relation to the copyrighted work as an entire piece (the smaller the fraction of work being repurposed, the better)
  • The impact, or lack thereof, that your GIF will have on the copyright holder’s ability to profit from their own material

And it’s always a good idea to link to the original material to give credit where it’s due.

Confusing? It’s about to get even more complex. Using a GIF that features a person’s face adds another layer of usage issues. The only way to not get into legal trouble when using a GIF that features a famous face is to get their permission to do so. If you don’t have their permission you can possibly receive a cease and desist order from the copyright holder or the celebrity’s management team.

So, GIF carefully and selectively to stay out of trouble and to keep your audience engaged.


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