GIFen Half a Chance
Posted: April 10, 2012 | 13:51 ET by Nick Parish

Whether you're in the hard-G or soft-G camp, the GIF image format has grown in tandem with the modern internet. It's 25 years old this year, and is enjoying a renaissance. While not the best at holding photographic information (you're limited to 256 colors), it does have the benefit of being able to store multiple frames, played back as short animations. This has turned the GIF into a versatile film clip container, able to hold a few seconds of hilarity in a tiny, easily displayed package.

Some (estimated) 24.5 years after the first funny GIFs hit the web, in the wave of new expression using the format, brands have caught on, with Volkswagen, GE and Burberry all among those lauding the format's popularity with unique ways to connect it to their audiences.

Techno-Pop Culture

Volkswagen, for instance, chose to use its position as sponsor of the upcoming reunion of German synth-pop pioneers Kraftwerk at the Museum of Modern Art as its entry to GIF culture. The band is playing all of its studio albums on consecutive nights at the museum, and the tickets were nearly impossible to get. But, as sponsor, Volkswagen has a block, so it decided to award the tickets to fans. It created the site VWGIFway, where fans could create animated images to enter into a contest that worked as a standalone lottery, as well, for those without image-crafting skills.

'It would be easy for the VW partnership to get lost, despite the German connection,' says Winston Binch, chief digital officer at Deutsch/LA, VW's agency. 'Kraftwerk fans tend to be into art, culture, and cool Internet stuff. Our team liked the idea of making it an art exchange, and GIFs felt like just the right currency for this audience. They're an inherently shareable media. An entertaining GIF can still travel well.’

Around the GIF-o-sphere

GE, meanwhile, named the winner of its 'Be the Next Instagrapher' contest, then it had Adam Senatori, its champion, create a series of Cinemagraph-style GIFs to display on BuzzFeed, and created a post of the top 60 Cinemagraph-style GIFs.

Meanwhile, Burberry uploaded shots from the recent London Fashion Week as animated sequences it then shared on Twitter.

Even US public broadcasting has gotten into the game, with PBS' Off Book webseries releasing a short documentary called 'Animated GIFs: The Birth of a Medium.'

Why they work

It's certainly laudable for brands to be communicating in ways that people are, and the vast majority of web culture understands the way GIFs work, and what's great about them, but we're not sure if the world needs another set of animated GIFs with men and turbine engines in them. While interesting, this recent spate of popularity (especially the PBS short) rings of Internet culture looking firmly up its own butt. While GIFs never went away, Tumblr culture is still undeniably helping propagate them for another generation.

Some brands, especially those with great content, are a no-brainer to become a conduit for fan-love. Late Night with Jimmy Fallon has featured some of the best fan GIFs, for example. Network sitcoms should have designated GIFers pumping out the best bits from episodes, and creating a repository for fans to share them as easily as possible. Fans have been doing this for years now, most notably culture critic Rich Juzwiak, whose FourFour blog includes epic threads of rundowns from shows like America's Next Top Model. Why can't brands make it easier?

Other mysteries are still unsolved. Is it a hard G or soft? Maybe after another 25 years we'll have agreed on the answer.

Tags: Contagious

Nick Parish is Contagious’ North American Editor, based in New York. He tweets @paryshnikov and @contagiousmag. Sign up for Contagious’ free weekly newsletter at
< Newer PostPrevious Post >