October 31, 2017

4 ways GIFs improve email engagement.


Let’s say you open a promotional email from a fitness company. At first glance, you see a single gray running shoe with red laces resting on black pavement. A second later a blue running shoe with white laces take its place, and then another shoe, and another. The gray sneaker appears again and the cycle continues. Ten seconds have passed and you’re still in the email, eyes glued to the never-ending thread of running shoes. You’ve just experienced a GIF.

This layered imagery is a design (and engagement) breakthrough for email. GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) allow marketers to create a deeper story within their campaign or to show off the functionality of a product. Keep in mind: A study by Microsoft revealed the average attention span is now eight seconds—less than a goldfish. Because GIFs are short, viewers are more keen to watch them to the end. They provide information that is easy to retain and create a bigger impact, while still being enjoyable to watch.

Believe it or not, GIFs have been around since 1987 when inventor Steve Wilhite of CompuServe released a flying airplane graphic. Although GIFs did make a splash in the ’90s with dancing babies and flashing lights, it wasn’t until 20 years later that enough bandwidth was available to users to support the format.

First GIF designed in 1987

Now you can find GIFs on Facebook, text messages, email, and more! However, not all email clients are capable of displaying GIFs. In Outlook 2007-2013 and Windows Phone 7, only the first frame of your animation will be shown. With this in mind, establish a strong first frame that includes key information. Accommodating your subscribers is the initial step in driving engagement.

J Crew email of rendering GIF (left) and its first frame (right).

GIF examples

The key to incorporating GIFs in email? Less is more! Keep the design subtle, short, and comprehensible to create the most impact in the shortest amount of time.

Functionality of a product

Want to share an update in UI or educate you subscriber about a product? GIFs can easily portray those functions in a continuous loop. Leaving your audience with an understanding of what to expect will decrease FAQs and stir excitement.

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Dynamic emphasis

Give your campaign personality. Stand out in the inbox by adding energy to your design through subtle GIFs. Majority of viewers’ daily emails are stagnant; use movement to gain attention. Blinking text, countdown clocks, and shifting images will hold the subscriber’s eye longer than a dormant graphic. Have some fun!

It’s a big week for us at theSkimm. We’re turning 5.

theSkimmBirthday suit, on

Variety of options

GIFs create room to show off more products. Layering multiple colors of one sweater will show versatility and spark an emotional interest through color-association. Having a sale on candles? Cycle through the different marked-down scents. Going from one product to five entices a higher volume of viewers. Hello, engagement!

H&M$12.99 sweaters for a limited time only!

Tell a story

Think of GIFs as a 6-second commercial to provoke an emotional response from your audience. Set the table for Thanksgiving, or traject a German Shepherd jumping for dog treats. Whether sentimental or humorous, your viewers will appreciate the effort to tell a story instead of pushing a sale.

Whole FoodsIt’s #NationalTacoDay! Get $1 Off the Taquería

Keep in mind

Incorporating GIFs into email is easier than you think. Give it a try! Just remember not all email clients support the format. Only animate what needs to be animated. The more simplistic the GIF appears, the lower the file size will be. This means fewer frames, less movement, and less color. Faster rendering happens when the file size stays low, which will play nicely with 55% of mobile viewers. Stay near 1MB to avoid eating up data with a monster-sized GIF.

Help your message stand out—add a GIF or two and capture your subscriber’s attention. Entice them to take action! A little animation can go a long way.

*Nyan Cat is copyrighted by prguitarman.

Author: Alex Eilmann

Alex Eilmann is the senior designer at 250ok. She joined the company in its infancy, acquiring creative and email design best practices by being the driving force behind 250ok’s evolving visual brand.

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