Design

GIFs: When and How to Deploy the Animated Format in Your Content

Avoid “GIF gorging,” make sure it’s on-message, and follow ADA stipulations


What can you get done in five seconds or less? You might feel like a slacker, compared to GIFs. In roughly the time it takes to count to five these bite-sized digital clips can do the following:

  • Grab an audience’s eye.
  • Drive engagement and interactivity. 
  • Boost brand awareness and showcase its uniqueness.
  • Make a message more visual and memorable. 
  • Spark action, such as clicking to another post or link.

We’ve used GIFs creatively and effectively at Imprint to underscore messaging that includes straightforward how-tos and step-by-steps. A GIF showing an icon of savings and an icon of spending efficiently tells the story how these variables can combine in dynamic ways. The message comes alive in a fresh way.

But let’s back up so we’re on the same page about GIFs (pronounced with a hard “g”, as in Graphic Interchange Format; not a soft “g,” as in what you spread on your PB&J). GIFs are made up of a series of images that give the appearance of movement. In the retail realm, for example, an animated GIF can tell the story of a new product line — say, sneakers available in blue, red, white, and black. Information can be conveyed in a short, silent, 360-degree story. While you could tell the same story with video, a GIF can be digested faster, is easier to implement across the spectrum of channels, and is far less resource-intensive.

To GIF or not to GIF

These brief animated bursts aren’t necessarily a one-GIF-fits-all solution. Storytelling is the key when it comes to deciding whether a GIF is the right move. Does your content need the digital nugget? Does it expand messaging? Have you addressed accessibility so that everyone can appreciate the story you’re telling? Does it line up with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines that are changing the use of GIFs?  

If the answer is no to any of these questions, you might consider another way to tell the story with the same energy and clarity — a video, infographic, or even a static image. When the project clearly calls for a GIF, follow these rules of the road.  

1. Avoid GIF gorging. One study found that animated ads were more than 10x as effective as their static counterparts — but too much of a good thing leads to diminishing returns. For full effect, you have to let the moving image or graphic shine. Overloading content or an email with GIFs undercuts surprise and can be a turn-off.

2. Match messages. The spirit of an animated GIF needs to complement content. A serious service piece can be undercut by a GIF that’s tone-deaf, too clever for its own good, or just plain silly. A story about building a secure investment portfolio isn’t the place for a GIF like this:  

3. Keep eyes on the size. Make the most of the format. Choose imagery that fills the frame and holds focus and not visuals that fade into a busy or distracting background. Use these GIFs for messaging that is ready for a close up.

4. Emphasize accessibility. Visual content isn’t accessible to those with visual impairments, and that must be taken into account. Alt text, which describes what’s on an image and why the image is on a page, is a possible solution. Accessibility also includes colors, contrast, text size and readability — which means a brand’s color palette comes into account.

5. Consider compliance. Animated GIFs have been around since the late 1980s, but recently regulations have emerged that are monitored. Flashing GIFs can trigger those sensitive to pulsating movement. 

GIFs that typically are troublesome are ones that don’t pass the “pause, stop, hide” guideline. Users need to be able to start and stop moving, blinking or scrolling information that lasts more than five seconds. Knowing the nuances of compliance is a must. 

In content and messaging, GIFs take up nearly no time at all, just a handful of seconds — but the decision to use one shouldn’t be made in a flash.


If you’re considered implementing GIFs into your content, reach out to us at imprint@imprintcontent.com. We’d love to help hone your strategy and help you create compelling and effective animations!

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