Why the gif has become a communications tool

It's happened.

The repetitive image file that fills the pages of tumblr, Buzzfeed and beyond has now become a fully-fledged communication tool – but why now?

GIFs have been used for decades, from dancing bananas to dramatic chipmunks, before most brands even thought about 'engaging content'. Now, however, content is king.

This school of thought is most applicable to brands trying to reach the mysterious 'millennials', and how to speak to them has been the golden question of conferences and industry articles for quite some time. So, given the huge popularity of GIF related content among the group, it was inevitable for PRs to latch onto them.

We’ve all seen the sponsored content on Buzzfeed (a quick browse through the homepage reveals brands like KitKat and Reed utilising the site's immense influence) and we’ve all seen twitter accounts like Paddy Power engage their audience with these assets too – but things have gone one step further.

Recently, America's House of Representatives Judiciary Committee used ten reactionary GIFs - from J-Law, Ariel, Britney Spears and more - in their press release about immigration:

1. Right now, one single person – the President of the United States – can turn off the enforcement of our immigration laws unilaterally. For real.


2. And that’s just what President Obama has done. Since he’s the boss of federal immigration enforcement officers, he’s told them to stop enforcing our immigration laws.


Then there’s the President of the United States, who's created the “16 sweetest reasons to get covered” (all in GIF form) on the White House's website to promote his Healthcare.gov initiative; encouraging people to share their favourites and spread awareness of the initiative.

People's Choice:
The Number One Reason to Get Covered

Women can't be charged more than men

Now that's a slam dunk. HEALTHCARE.GOV

Both showing how serious, political issues are trying to reach the disengaged youth in this way.

And back on these shores, Channel 4 have created 4NewsWall; a GIF powered news website, showing you all the events of the day in enticing GIF form - like so:

Bulldozed pub must be rebuilt brick by brick

 [GIF Image]The Sun declares support for the Tories [GIF Image]

But the final proof point came from Google, who are now using GIFs as full-blown company statements. The first came in the form of this stunned looking child, used are as their official response to a reporter’s question about YouTube live streaming:


Then there was this laughing baby, included in their reply to News Corp’s ‘political interference’ accusations:


Whether it’s a patronising, dumbed-down form of communication, or a genuinely engaging asset to disseminate your message will totally depend on your brand and your approach; so do think twice before you throw out Barney Stinson spraying champagne for you next product launch, or Kim Kardashian crying at a time of crisis.

Although, regardless of your own conclusions, the GIF is now a recognised means of professional communication - and it’s here to stay…

This article is written by Alex Judd a consultant at Fishburn.