We all love animated GIFs. Millions are exchanged every day between friends on gchat as a way to entertain each other, to express emotion and impart humor. However, GIFs are not just funny placeholders in texts and Tumblrs—they’ve become an innovative and interactive way to advertise, as they connect with a young audience. Last month, GIFs turned 25, blossoming from silly internet jokes to illustrating professional content.
In June 1987, Steve Wilhite of Compuserve created the GIF, although there was some controversy following Wilhite’s debut. Unisys apparently patented this compression technique in 1985, just two years earlier, resulting in a copyright disagreement. The outcome of the case: a commercial license would be allowed with a small fee being paid to Unisys. Despite this, the GIF thrived, as it allowed animation to be incorporated into early web design—remember those moving banners on 1990’s web pages? We do.
From the dancing banana that started the GIF craze with its fast loading time on 56k modems (versus the constant buffering of videos), a type of web humor intrinsic to the Millenial generation was born. Perhaps it seems trite, but the seemingly tongue-in-cheek humor is a new way to communicate, adding symbolism to conversation; this Christopher Walken GIF paired with the phrase “When I’m trying out a new look and my friends call me out” is a new way to use humor regarding experiences everyone deals with, but don’t necessarily talk about.
GIFs are uniquely Millenial—the phrases attached with the animated images are quick one-liners, which blend extraordinarily well with our fast-paced communication, also illustrated by tightly-packed texts and tweets. This economic form of expression lends itself to advertising and marketing, as it catches an audience’s attention within three seconds.
Major companies have already adapted their marketing tactics to this approach—Seamless and Manhattan Mini Storage ads are an indicative example, with taglines such as: “Your friends in the Midwest share photos of their kids. You share photos of dinner” and “Oh yeah, you’ll fit right in Connecticut.”